Israel Police Chief: We Have Several Arsonists in Custody

Firefighters extinguish a wildfire in the northern city of Haifa, Israel November 24, 2016. REUTERS/Baz Ratner
Firefighters extinguish a wildfire in Haifa, Thursday. (Reuters/Baz Ratner)

At least some of the hundreds of fires that have been plaguing Israel for the past three days – including the fires in Haifa on Thursday – were the work of arsonists, and several arrests have been made, Israel Police Chief Roni Alsheich said Thursday afternoon. The arsonists were Arabs who set the fires out of nationalistic and anti-Israel motivations, he said at a dramatic press conference.

“Many of the fires were caused by arson, and many were not,” Alsheich said. Between Tuesday and Thursday, more than 250 fires had broken out in Israel – far too many to be a “coincidence,” Alsheich said. “Given the circumstances, it is reasonable to say that these fires were set for nationalistic purposes,” Alshich said. Witnesses, he said, had stepped forward to confirm the identity of several of the suspects, who were seen setting fires and using accelerant to spread them. Especially suspicious, said commentators on Channel Two, was the fact that many of the fires breaking out throughout the country were burning just a few meters from gas stations.

Alsheich said that police had set up a special unit to deal with finding the arsonists behind the fires, and he promised they would all be brought to justice. “I can’t reveal too much because I do not want to interfere with the investigation, and I am sure you do not as well,” he told reporters at a press conference. “We have suspects in custody. I suggest that people allow us to carry out the investigation in a professional manner.” Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan said Thursday that “half of the fires are being deliberately set,” and ordered police and Border Guards to patrol open areas and forests in the hope of finding who is setting the fires.

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said that “there are signs that some of the fires are being deliberately set, but there is no doubt that the weather conditions are making conditions much more difficult and enabling the fires to spread. What is usually a small, easily controlled fire becomes a major conflagration. Unfortunately these conditions are not to set to change today, and perhaps tomorrow as well, so we must be prepared to deal with the problem.”

Neither Netanyahu nor Erdan said who they thought might be responsible for the arson, but Education Minister Naftali Bennett said that whoever it was, they were not truly “sons of the land. Only those to whom the land does not belong could burn it down,” he said in a social media post.