Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed gratitude to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and also thanked some two-dozen countries that offered to help Israel douse the fires that raged across the country last week.
On Saturday night, Netanyahu made a rare call to Abbas to thank him for sending eight fire trucks and dozens of firefighters to battle the blaze.
The prime minister plans to hold Sunday’s weekly cabinet meeting in Haifa, which was hard hit by the fires and, on Monday, the Knesset Finance Committee plans to meet in Jerusalem to discuss compensation for the fire victims.
“There is no doubt that there are foundations of terrorism here,” Netanyahu said Friday as he visited Hatzor Air Force Base in the center of the country, warning that all those responsible would be “severely punished.”
“There is a price for this crime, there is a price for this terrorism by arson, and we will know how to exact it,” he said.
Nineteen planes and two helicopters landed in Israel to help put out the fires, with another four expected to arrive.
This included planes from Cyprus, Greece, Italy, Russia, Turkey, Croatia, France, Spain, Azerbaijan, Ukraine, the US and Egypt. Other countries that offered help include the Netherlands, Belarus, Great Britain, Portugal, Switzerland, Georgia, Bulgaria, Romania, The Czech Republic, Slovakia, Jordan and Austria.
In addition, Israel paid a US company to use a Supertanker, the largest aerial firefighting aircraft in the world.
More than 160 international firefighters, including from Cyprus and the United States, were also expected to take part in the operation.
Some 90 of them were already on the ground.
Two Canadair fire-fighting tankers and one Beech reconnaissance aircraft sent by France were scheduled to arrive Saturday night at Hatzor Air Force Base. The three airplanes left the Marseille-Provence airport in the south of France Saturday morning and landed Saturday night after refueling in Cyprus on their way to Israel. The French Canadairs can each carry some 5,000 liters of water and can refill their tankers with sea water.
The Civil Protection Division within the French Interior Ministry told The Jerusalem Post the planes are operational and carry on board the necessary teams to start working upon arrival.
“We are operating within the framework of the European emergency assistance network, which enables countries around the world to address emergency requests to the network’s members. It could be an earthquake, floods, or fire – such as the case of the fires in Israel.
“The member countries which are available, and whose equipment is not otherwise occupied, can individually respond to the aid requests. France responded immediately to the Israeli request, according to the specific requirement Israel asked for,’’ said the spokesperson.
The Canadairs are scheduled to stay in Israel for a week, unless Israeli authorities request an extension.
In addition, following a special request by the Prime Minister’s Office, France also sent on Saturday a team of firefighters headed by Col. Jean-Pierre Squillari, which will evaluate Israeli assistance needs.
Sources in the French firefighting service told the Post that French firefighters are very experienced in forest and brush fires, which are very frequent in the south of France in the summer.
“Conditions in the south of France are quite similar to the situation in Israel; we have dry vegetation quite close to residential areas, and few water sources, apart from the sea,’’ said the source.
Israeli Ambassador to France Aliza Bin-Noun told the Post that French authorities, including the Elysee Palace, the French Foreign Ministry and the French Interior Ministry responded quickly and efficiently to Israel’s requests.
“The French came back to us in no time stating that they are offering us all the help we are asking for and that they have already started working on it,’’ said Bin-Noun. “Their commitment to help us was clear, unconditioned and heart-warming.’’ On Friday, at Hatzor Air Base, one of the Greek pilots told Netanyahu: “We are your friends and we are always here for you,” noting that it was the second time he had come to Israel’s aid. The first time was during the Carmel Forest fire of 2010.
At the air base, Netanyahu said he “salutes” all those who had battled the fires, including the Israeli firefighters, police and paramedics.
Earlier on Friday, he visited the site of the fire at Moshav Beit Meir outside Jerusalem accompanied by Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan and Jerusalem District Border Police commander Itzik Sabin.
Netanyahu spoke with Arik Abulof, an officer with the aerial firefighting squadron, who thanked the prime minister for establishing the unit.
“Without it, I figure that the forces, and I belong to them, would have had to spend many more hours, long days, to gain control. The damage to property and life, the damage to life, would have been much worse.
There is no doubt that these planes are doing the work to assist in blocking the flames and give respite to the ground forces.”
Netanyahu responded: “There was a clear decision to do this during the Carmel fire, and afterwards we decided to establish the squadron.
“One cannot fight fire without fire-fighters like you. It is impossible. This is heroism.
You stand in the line of fire.
But there are no forest fires and fires on the ground, nowhere in the world, in which they are dealt with effectively without fire-fighting planes. And I am proud of the fact that, today, we have a large and good squadron.”Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report.