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Thousands flee bushfires as Israel alleges 'arson terror'

Haifa (Israel) (AFP) - Tens of thousands of Israelis fled raging bushfires in the northern city of Haifa Thursday, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said any proof of arson would be treated as "terror."

Internal Security Minister Gilad Erdan said up to half of a spate of fires in recent days had been "arson terror," while another minister appeared to point the finger at the country's Arab minority -- drawing fierce rebukes from Arab leaders.

Some residents were trapped in their homes as the army called up reservists to support firefighters struggling to cope with a third day of blazes.

Haifa mayor Yona Yahav told journalists 60,000 of the city's roughly 250,000 residents had been evacuated, calling the scale "unprecedented."

Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said residents in eight Haifa neighbourhoods had been told to leave due to six separate fires.

Residents spoke of a desperate rush to get elderly residents out.

"The fire is out of control and is spreading from one house to the other," the rescue services chief in the Carmel neighbourhood, Naftali Rottenberg, told public radio.

"Sometimes we are taking residents out against their will."

Yael Hame, a Haifa resident who fled her house, said it was "very frightening".

"The fire was up over the skyscrapers. It came up to 20 stories high."



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Wildfires tear across Israel, Netanyahu calls arsonists 'terrorists'

Wildfires tore across central and northern Israel on Thursday, forcing tens of thousands of residents to flee the city of Haifa, as leaders blamed arsonists for some of the blazes and branded them terrorists.

Television pictures showed a wall of flames raging through central neighborhoods of Israel's third largest city. Firefighters dowsed a petrol station with water as the blaze edged closer.

The fires have been burning in multiple locations for the past three days but intensified on Thursday, fueled by unseasonably dry weather and strong easterly winds.




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