TEL AVIV – One-third of the fires raging across the country are suspected to have been caused by arson, Israel police said Sunday.
So far, between 30-40 of the 90 fires subjected to forensic investigation were likely to have been intentionally started by arsonists, a police statement claimed. There is no evidence yet that the arson was nationalistically-motivated.
“Many of the incidents were caused by normal reasons, like weather or an electrical short circuit. But a serious number were caused by arson,” a spokesperson said.
“We are setting up a nationwide team to centralize the local details and are trying to find a connection,” the spokesperson said. “We are trying to understand who is behind the arson, and we are trying to reach them.”
50 people have been questioned and 24 arrests were made, 18 of whom were Israeli Arabs. Two Israeli Arabs admitted to arson.
Over the weekend the IDF and the Shin Bet security agency arrested ten Palestinians from the West Bank on suspicion of arson. Israeli authorities said they discovered bottles of lighter fluid, matches and gloves in a car outside of Ramallah.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reiterated that there was “no doubt” some of the fires were intentionally started.
“There is a price to pay for the crimes committed, there is a price to pay for arson terrorism,” he said.
Some 75,000 people were forced to flee their homes since the wildfires started last Tuesday, destroying 32,000 of land. Most have been cleared to return home but damages are estimated to reach hundreds of millions shekels.
Police chief Roni Alsheich said the arson attempts should be regarded as acts of terror.
“If setting the fire was deliberate, it is definitely terror,” Alsheich told Army Radio. “By the way, that is nothing new, there have been arson incidents in the past. The concentration of a relatively large number of days, and the number of incidents and the weather conditions, brought about these results but there is nothing new and there were incidents like this in the past.”
“We have good tools for dealing with terror — we haven’t yet taken advantage of them; we will review things and if we think that the measures are lacking we will demand them. … There are sufficient measures in the Israeli book of laws,” he added.
Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan told Israel’s Channel 2 that the country’s policy of demolishing the homes of terrorists should apply to arsonists.
If the government “can destroy the homes of terrorists who have shot or stabbed [Israelis], then we can demolish the homes of those who committed arson for nationalistic motives; there is no difference,” he said.