AP NEWS

Wildfires sweep across Israel as heatwave grips region

May 23, 2019
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Fire fighters extinguish a forests fire near Kibbutz Harel, Israel, Thursday, May 23, 2019. Israeli police have ordered the evacuation of several communities in southern and central Israel as wildfires rage amid a major heatwave. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

JERUSALEM (AP) — 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.

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

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

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin 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.

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.

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

While police said emergency services were still working to bring the fires under control and had no immediate indication of their cause, the fires broke out a day after Israelis marked the minor Jewish festival of Lag Ba’Omer with bonfires.

A Netanyahu spokesman blamed “incendiary balloons launched by Hamas” for fires near the Gaza Strip in southern Israel, although this was not immediately verified by emergency services.

Gaza militants had 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.

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.

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