Twenty-two Arrested by Israel Officials Over Wildfires

Security officials in Israel have detained 22 people on arson suspicion or the incitement of arson said law enforcement late Friday.

The fires began Tuesday and erupted across the country due to parched forests, burning down a number of homes and forcing thousands to flee. Two prisons had to be evacuated.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday said a large number of fires had been set and he described it as terror, a term that is usually given to describe Palestinian militant attacks.

There is for incitement and terror as well as for crime and that will be exacted, said Netanyahu during a tour of Hatzor military base.

The instructions have been given to prosecute anyone who is committing these acts as a way for all to see that anyone trying to burn the state of Israel down will face full punishment, said the Prime Minister.

Dozens of fires were under control by firefighters as of Friday, allowing many people to go back home in Haifa a port city to the north and one area hit the hardest.

However, new fires started close to Jerusalem and in Galilee. Hundreds of people living in Nataf, a small community close to Jerusalem had to be evacuated Friday.

By Friday night, a Supertanker 747 firefighting plane from the U.S. was in Israel to help with extinguishing some fires and as many as 50 firefighters from the U.S. were going to join in the firefighting effort.

While unseasonably hot, dry conditions aided by strong winds helped to fan the flames. Nearly half of all the existing fires were suspected of being arson said security officials from Israel.

By Friday night, two additional fires were set on Lebanon’s side of the border, with the hope, the wind would fan the flames into Israel.

Of the people arrested on charges of arson, one, who was Palestinian, had been accused of setting a fire on Friday in the forests close to Beit Meir a small Jewish community close to Jerusalem.

Eight people by late Friday were released, while 14 other had their detention extended by Israeli authorities.

Officials in Israel hinted they suspected that Palestinians had been behind the arson, but Palestinian leaders in the country cautioned against putting blame on a group before having the proper proof.

Many urged calm. The number of fires was highly unusual but cannot be overblown yet, said one local military analyst.

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