Massive wildfires sweep Israel day after Palestinians launch 10 arson balloons

Wildfires raged in Israel on Thursday amid a major heatwave, with police ordering the evacuation of several communities in the country’s center and south.

By Associated Press

Firefighters battled brushfires along the Gaza boundary, as well as near the country’s main international airport and outside Jerusalem on Thursday. A major Tel Aviv-Jerusalem highway was also closed to traffic because of the fire.

A spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blamed “incendiary balloons launched by Hamas” for fires near the Gaza Strip in southern Israel.

Gaza terrorists floated at least 10 incendiary balloons into Israel on Wednesday, and in response, Israeli authorities reduced Gaza’s fishing zone from 15 nautical miles to 10.

An Israeli police official told Hebrew media that a fire had almost completely destroyed the village of Mevo Modi’im — a community founded by the late songwriting Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach.

Israel and the region are gripped by a major heatwave, with temperatures around the country reaching 100 F (38 C) and higher.

Netanyahu instructed the Foreign Ministry and Public Security Ministry to seek firefighting aircraft from abroad to help battle the blazes, a spokesman for the premier’s office said.

Residents of the nearby town of Gimzo evacuated Torah scrolls from the community synagogue as the flames approached.

Police said emergency services were still working to bring the fires under control and had no immediate indication of their cause. On Wednesday evening, Israelis marked the minor Jewish festival of Lag Ba’Omer with bonfires.

A massive forest fire in 2010 burned for four days on northern Israel’s Mount Carmel, claiming 44 lives and destroying around 12,000 acres, much of it woodland.