(photo credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS)
WASHINGTON – US President Barack Obama spoke by phone to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu Friday to convey America’s condolences about Israeli lives lost in the massive forest fire and discuss US assistance.
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“We are pursuing a ‘full court press’ to help and have the Israeli people in our thoughts and prayers,” Obama told Netanyahu.
So far the US has sent 12,000 liters of fire-suppressing foam and 45 metric tons of fire-retardant spray to be disseminated from planes, and is looking at the possibility of sending air support, according to National Security Council senior Middle East advisor Dan Shapiro.
In addition, a team of three expert American fire fighters is due to arrive this weekend.
“The US has been working overtime in many, many different streams to try to be as responsive as possible to Israel’s needs,” Shapiro said.
Obama also relayed his condolences and American support for Israel throughout the tragedy at the annual White House Hanukkah party he hosted Thursday night.
“As rescuers and firefighters continue in their work, the United States is acting to help our Israeli friends respond to the disaster,” he told the approximately 500 guests in attendance. “Of course, that's what friends do for each other.”
In response to the fires, US Ambassador to Israel Jim Cunningham has issued a disaster declaration, which helped launched the effort to rapidly provide Israel as much US firefighting assistance as possible.
In addition to the chemicals provided by the US European Command, America is also providing fire-mapping to help local responders get accurate pictures of the extent of the fire and is offering to assess the costs of the fire and what will be needed long-term to cope with its consequences.
“We are moving as quickly as we can to provide this assistance, and are heartened by similar efforts to contribute resources from Israel’s other friends around the world,” US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in a statement put out Thursday night, stressing that “we are fully committed to assisting Israel during this tragedy.”
She continued, “My hope is that the fires are extinguished soon. The hearts of the people of the United States go out to the people of Israel, and we stand with them at this difficult time.”
The Israeli embassy welcomed the help proffered by the United States.
“The people of Israel have been profoundly moved by the outpouring of support from a number of foreign countries,” Israel’s ambassador to the US Michael Oren said in a statement Friday. “We are especially grateful to President Barack Obama for his expression of support.”
He added that Israel is “ready to begin the task of rebuilding - restoring the damaged communities, replenishing the wildlife, and planting new forests. The State of Israel has surmounted many challenges in its short history. Together with our friends worldwide, we will overcome this too.”
British Prime Minister David Cameron also called Netanyahu Friday afternoon to extend condolences and sympathies
for the lives lost in the ongoing Carmel forest fires.
“The Prime Minister extended his sincere condolences and great
sympathies for the tragic loss of life in Israel in the ongoing forest
fires. The UK had been glad to be able to help through the deployment of
two UK helicopters based in Cyprus. Prime Minister Netanyahu thanked
the British Government for the help; Britain had been amongst the first
nations to provide assistance,” a Downing Street spokesman said.
Foreign Secretary William Hague also expressed condolences on behalf of the British Government.
“The British Government has been saddened by the Carmel Forest fire in
northern Israel which has claimed so many lives,” Hague said on Friday.
“Our thoughts are with the thousands who have had to leave their homes
due to the blaze. This tragedy is all the more sad as it comes as the
Jewish community around the world celebrates Hanukka a time of hope and
joy."Jonny Paul contributed to this report.