Israel Battles 'Nationalistically Motivated' Fires

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JERUSALEM, Israel -- Israeli authorities believe arson is responsible for fires that have burned large swaths of land this summer and damaged property from the north to the south.

Some describe the fires as "nationalistically motivated," but Internal Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch (Yisrael Beiteinu) calls them "spontaneous terror."

MK Yaakov Katz, chairman of the National Union party, says the government should prosecute arsonists as terrorists. He plans to resubmit a bill proposing a five-year minimum sentence for convicted arsonists when the Knesset reconvenes for the winter session in October.

Meanwhile, a number of government officials, police and firefighters agree that summer dryness or careless campers cannot be solely responsible for the wave of fires.

"Six fires in the same place cannot be caused by negligence," Arie Regev, fire chief of the northern port city of Haifa, told YNet.

On Thursday, fire crews, supported by aircraft, battled blazes around Moshav Even Sapir near the Hadassah Ein Kerem medical complex in Jerusalem, and another near the town of Beit Shemesh about halfway between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, and in Kiryat Tivon, southeast of Haifa, where five homes were destroyed.

District Police Commander Haggai Dotan called for a special team to investigate the recent spat of fires.

"The suspicion now is we are experiencing a wave of nationalistically motivated arson fires," Dotan said. "We have no intelligence to support that claim, but if you look at the entire country, we see a series of arson fires in Tivon, Jerusalem and Beit Shemesh. Such a sequence of fires cannot be coincidental."

In July, two Israeli Arab youths admitted to "nationalistic motives" for starting a major blaze west of Jerusalem.

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