Israel has “clear evidence” that at least 17 of the blazes that plagued the country over the past week were deliberately set, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said Sunday. On a visit to the Binyamin town of Chalamish, which over Shabbos suffered from a major blaze, Liberman said that there were a total of 110 fires that broke out in Israel since Tuesday, with a significant number of them set by arsonists.
“I hope that we will quickly be able to track down the arsonists and bring them to justice,” Liberman said. On Sunday, four suspected Arab arsonists who were taken into custody over the weekend were arraigned in a Haifa court, with their remand extended as police continue to gather evidence in the dozens of fires that burned throughout the country for nearly a week.
Meanwhile, hundreds of Israelis whose homes were either totally destroyed or badly damaged by fire were seeking assistance from insurance companies and government agencies to rebuild their lives. Finance Minister Moshe Kachlon promised over the weekend that the government would cover all direct expenses related to the fires, and that the government had allocated tens of millions of shekels for this purpose.
On Sunday, Kachlon promised that the aid would be quick to arrive. “I have ordered officials to evaluate all the damage to homes by Thursday at the latest. The adjusters will quickly make their report, and we will transfer the funds due to each household within 24 hours,” Kachlon said at Sunday’s cabinet meeting.
The Cabinet convened in Haifa, the hardest-hit city, where major blazes forced tens of thousands of people from their homes.
Despite Liberman’s contention that only a portion of the fires were due to terrorism, Kachlon said that “at this time we are relating to all the fires as terrorist acts, and the government will cover all costs as it would with all terror attacks.” Any changes to that assessment will be worked out with a victim’s insurance company; victims will get paid either way, Kachlon added. The first payment of NIS 2,500 per resident is authorized on Motzoei Shabbos, Kachlon added.
Speaking Sunday, Haifa Mayor Yona Yahav said that 1,774 homes were damaged in the fires that hit the city Thursday and Friday; of those, 500 are uninhabitable. Earlier, officials said that a total of 41,000 dunams of forest lands burned to the ground.