Israel requests international aid as Jerusalem area fire spreads

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Israel is requesting international aid to combat a massive wildfire which continued to spread on multiple fronts west of Jerusalem for a second day on Monday, forcing hundreds of local residents to evacuate their homes.

Some 10 firefighting aircraft and large numbers of firefighters are working to stop the flames. Israel Police evacuated the first line of houses in the town of Sho’eva as the fire neared the town on Monday afternoon.

Israel asked several countries on the Mediterranean Sea to help fight the fires raging outside of Jerusalem on Monday.

The Foreign Ministry, in conjunction with the Public Security Ministry, sent requests to Greece, Cyprus, Italy, France and others.

Fire Chief Insp.-Gen. Dedi Simchi emphasized to Foreign Minister Yair Lapid that firefighting planes are needed as soon as possible.

Lapid also spoke with his Greek counterpart Nikos Dendias, who said Greece will help however it can. Israel sent firefighters, planes and other aid to Greece when it battled wildfires earlier this month.

Earlier Monday, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett instructed the National Security Council to consider asking for international aid. 

Likud criticized Bennett, saying he should have asked earlier.

“Why is he waiting? He would have enlisted international aid immediately and not waste precious time as he did when he waited six weeks to bring third shots against coronavirus, which were ordered in advance. Human lives are at stake,” the Likud spokesman said, adding a thank you to the firefighters.

Israel Fire and Rescue Services declared a general call-up on Monday afternoon to concentrate efforts to fight the growing fire.

On Tuesday morning, six aircraft from Chim-Nir Aviation will join the firefighting efforts.

As the large blazes began rapidly spreading towards nearby towns, emergency forces began evacuating hundreds of residents of Givat Ye’arim, Kibbutz Tsuba, Ein Rafa and Ein Naqquba.

Firefighters battle blaze near town of Sho’eva, August 16, 2021 (Credit: Ron Sehayik/Israel Fire and Rescue Services)

Large blazes developed and spread near Nahal Tsuba, Har Eitan, Sho’eva and Shoresh due to strong winds on Monday afternoon, according to Israel Fire and Rescue Services. The fire also renewed near the Eitanim Medical Center, a psychiatric facility in the Jerusalem Hills. All the patients had been evacuated on Sunday but returned on Monday morning. 

The Nature and Parks Authority announced on Monday that it estimated that firefighting efforts will continue for a few days and that thousands of animals and insects have been injured or killed due to the fire.

Environmental Protection Minister Tamar Zandberg warned on Monday that such fires, extreme weather, floods and climate disasters will become more and more frequent and powerful in the coming years due to the climate crisis.

“This requires us to prepare completely differently for the impending climate disasters,” said Zandberg. “I am working for the State of Israel to declare a climate emergency. We must define the climate crisis as a strategic threat, which all parties need to prepare for and deal with better. Because from now on it’s going to get worse and worse. There is something to be done – and it needs to be done now.”

The huge wildfire spread near Jerusalem on Sunday, burning down thousands of dunams of forest and brushland and endangering nearby communities. High temperatures and strong winds helped the fire spread fast to the west of the capital.
The fire razed some 16,000 dunams as of Sunday evening, almost four times the amount burned in recent previous fires.

Some 70 squads from the Jerusalem fire department as well as neighboring forces attempted to fight the flames, but the fire was still uncontained as of Monday afternoon.

Ariella Marsden contributed to this report.

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