A wildfire roared through parts of Israel's third-largest city on Thursday, forcing tens of thousands of people to evacuate their homes as the country's leaders raised the possibility that Arab assailants had intentionally set the Haifa blaze. While there were no serious injuries, several dozen people were hospitalized for smoke inhalation. In a rare move, Israel called up hundreds of military reservists to join overstretched police and firefighters and was making use of an international fleet of firefighting aircraft sent by a slew of countries. The Haifa blaze was the most serious in a series of fires that have erupted across the country in recent days, the AP reports. On a visit to the area, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said anyone implicated in setting the fires would be punished severely.
"It's a crime for all intents and purposes and in our opinion it is terror for all intents and purposes," he said. He said incitement to arson was also playing a role in spreading the fires. Netanyahu did not elaborate on the identity or motives of the suspected arsonists, but Israeli officials typically use the term "terror" to refer to Arab or Palestinian militant activity. Israel's police chief Roni Alsheich told reporters that arrests had been made, without elaborating. "It's safe to assume that whoever is setting the fires isn't doing it only out of pyromania," he said. "It's safe to assume that if it is arson it is politically motivated." (In 2010, the worst wildfire in Israeli history killed 42 people.)