Israeli foreign ministry confirms assistance pledge from Egypt

AFP and Ahram Online, Friday 3 Dec 2010

As Israel combats wildfires, Egypt pledges assistance

Israeli paramedics
Reuters: Israeli paramedics evacuate an injured policewoman from the scene of a forest fire that broke out near kibbutz Beit Oren in the north of Israel December 2, 2010. The huge forest fire swept northern Israel on Thursday, killing up to 40 people, many of them prison guards who were trapped in a bus trying to flee the flames, security officials said.

The Israeli foreign ministry confirmed receiveing pledges of assistance from the Egyptian government among other countries as it struggles to control its raging forest fires.

Israel fought Friday to contain a massive forest fire that caused the death of 41 people, as global help poured in to battle the biggest inferno in the state's history.

The high winds drove the blaze towards the northern port city of Haifa, Israel declared "we have recovered 41 bodies, and there are still three people missing," said police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld, adding there were 16 people injured, including three seriously and one critically.

"It looks like a nuclear explosion," observed one bystander.

As the Carmel mountains continued to burn more than 24 hours after the blaze started, at least four Canadair water bombers could be seen flying through the smoke-choked skies, pouring water and fire retardant onto the vast flames.

There are only 1,500 firefighters operating across Israel, a number widely accepted as woefully inadequate for a country of 7.6 million people, prompting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to urgently appeal for international help.

By early Friday, five Greek planes, a Bulgarian craft with 100 firefighters, a Cypriot plane and helicopter and a British helicopter were in Israel, a military spokesman said. A second British helicopter was due to arrive soon.

The Israeli army said at least eight international fire-fighting planes and three helicopters were involved in the operation, as well as 150 firefighters from various countries. The foreign ministry confirmed it had received additional pledges of help from Azerbaijan, Croatia, Egypt, France, Jordan, Romania, Russia, Spain and Turkey.

US President Barack Obama expressed his "deepest condolences" for the victims and said US firefighters were on standby, and Australia also said its forces were ready to help.

Visiting the scene late on Thursday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described the blaze as "a fire on an international scale."

He convened an emergency session of the cabinet in Tel Aviv on Friday morning, after which he was expected to visit the injured at Haifa's Rambam hospital with Defence Minister Ehud Barak.

Rescue officials said firefighters had still not managed to control the fire, and video footage showed much of the horizon engulfed in flames, with plumes of thick black smoke pouring into the air.

Fire and rescue officials said it was not immediately clear what caused the blaze, which swept through the pine forest covering the Carmel hill ridge, one of Israel's most popular beauty spots.

Short link: