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Israel considering requesting international aid as wildfire spreads

Israel is considering 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.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has instructed Public Security Minister Omer Bar Lev and the National Security Council to consider requesting international aid to fight the fire.

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

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 has 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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