Arsonist strikes ultra-Orthodox J'lem neighborhood

Seven mall fires started in Mea She’arim in past 3 days; no injuries or major damage reported.

Mea Shearim 311 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Mea Shearim 311
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Police and firefighters are investigating a rash of arson attacks in the ultra-Orthodox Jerusalem neighborhood of Mea She’arim this week that appear to have been set by a local resident. In the past three days, seven small fires have broken out in the radius of a few blocks.
Over Shavuot, five fires broke out between midnight and 4:00 a.m. in three different places on Rehov Joseph Karo and two places on Rehov Reichman. Given that they were already in the area, firefighters responded immediately to each blaze, which was put out rapidly before major damage was caused.
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“There were a number of things that were repeated over and over, such as the location of the fires in abandoned parts of buildings, underneath buildings, in storage units and stairwells, as well as the way the fires were started,” said Jerusalem fire and rescue department spokesman Asaf Abras on Thursday. He added that the fire department was investigating in order to determine how and when the fires were set, while police were investigating suspects.
Jerusalem police spokesman Shmuel Ben-Ruby said there were some leads, and that investigators believe the fires were set by a resident of Mea She’arim rather than by someone from outside. Even though the fires were set during the Shavuot holiday, Ben-Ruby noted that it is permissible to “transfer fire to fire,” allowing an ultra-Orthodox person to start a fire without breaking the laws of observance.
Abras said firefighters were turning to the community asking them to be extra vigilant. Firefighters do not experience the same tensions with the haredi community that police do, but have to deal with large crowds that form and which can hinder them during their work, he said.
Mea She’arim experienced an almost identical epidemic of arson in 2004, with many of the same telltale signs, including locations and the materials used, said Abras.
“Everything is possible, but we can’t point the finger and say it was definitely the same person,” he added.