AMMAN – His Majesty King Abdullah on Sunday issued instructions to send the necessary equipment to assist in extinguishing fires that broke out in various forest areas in Lebanon, a Royal Court statement said.

The King issued the instructions after receiving a telephone call from Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, asking for help to put out the blazes north of Beirut.

Also yesterday, the King received a telephone call from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in which he expressed appreciation for Jordan’s contribution, along with several other countries, in extinguishing a huge fire in Carmel near Haifa, the Jordan News Agency, Petra, reported.

Lebanese firefighters battled a forest blaze on Sunday that has raged out of control for the past week, and frightened villagers north of Beirut fled as flames threatened to engulf their homes, Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported.

As an international flotilla of firefighting planes in neighbouring Israel finally brought under control the largest fire in that nation’s history after a four-day battle, 42 separate blazes were reported in Lebanon, four of them large, the civil defence services said.

President Michel Sleiman travelled to the village of Fatri, 45 kilometres north of Beirut to inspect efforts to control the blaze, which has devastated 150,000 square metres of woodland.

Municipal council leader Imad Daou told AFP that rough terrain hampered the firefighting effort while high winds had fanned the flames. “Trees more than 100 years old, olive groves and pines have been lost,” he said.

The blaze has claimed no lives, but six civil defence personnel have suffered minor injuries. Frightened villagers began to flee from their homes on Sunday.

Lebanese army helicopters tried to douse the flames from the air, while firefighters battled the blaze on the ground.

A civil defence official said emergency services were fighting “numerous fires” in different parts of the country fuelled by tinderbox conditions.

Another large blaze raged on Sunday in the Wadi Shahrur area close to the capital, also threatening homes.

“We need three times more capacity to face these fires,” Interior Minister Ziad Baroud told reporters.

“The inability to put out the fires is due to a lack of strategy,” Sleiman told LBC television. “We must work out a national plan to fight fires,” he said, adding his regret that “political tensions delay everything”.

According to the meteorological service, Lebanon has recorded just 51.2 millimetres of rain since September, compared with 214.8 millimetres in the same period last year.

Lebanon’s southern neighbour Israel, affected by the same extended summertime conditions and drought, has been battling a forest fire since last Thursday. That blaze killed 41 people.

Firefighters have overpowered the deadly blaze which tore through a forest in northern Israel after a four-day battle aided by aircraft from the around the world, officials said on Sunday.

AFP quoted fire chief Shimon Romah as saying that “the fire is under control”.

“There are no longer any major seats of the blaze. The task now is to make sure it doesn’t break out again,” he added.

And Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aaronovitch, quoted by his spokesman, said earlier: “I hope we will have finished in the coming hours” as aircraft from several countries worked to damp down the zone.

The tide appeared to have turned as a flotilla of international firefighting planes was reinforced on Sunday by a Boeing 747 supertanker, the world’s largest water-bombing aircraft, rented from the United States.

“I haven’t seen any flame for the last hour. It is better than I have seen in the last three days. We definitively have the back of it [the fire] broken,” British helicopter pilot Euan Johnson told AFP at Haifa military base.

By late morning, the Boeing supertanker was pouring 76,000 litres of water and flame retardant on the fire on each pass.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said no more firefighting planes from abroad were needed, acting on the advice of professional firefighters, and thanked the many nations which contributed.

Assistance came quickly, with at least 16 nations offering aircraft, personnel or materiel.

The fire ravaged at least 5,000 hectares of land and five million trees in pine-covered hills known locally as “little Switzerland”. With the balance swinging, meteorologists said rain was expected within 24 hours.

In an act of solidarity, ministers held their weekly cabinet meeting in the Haifa suburb of Tirat HaCarmel, where some residents were evacuated from the path of the flames.

They opened the session with a minute’s silence for victims of the fire, as Netanyahu pledged to rebuild the area “in the quickest possible way”. Ministers approved an initial special emergency aid package of 60 million shekels ($16.5 million).

The fire, centred on the Carmel hill range, just south and east of Haifa, claimed 41 lives and forced more than 17,000 people to flee their homes. It was the largest inferno in Israel’s 62-year history.

Residents of the Haifa area were urged to keep their windows shut to avoid contact with smoke or the retardant suspected of causing several people skin irritation, media reports said.

An Israel in mourning during its religious holiday of Hanuka buried 27 of the victims on Sunday.

Police have arrested two youths from the Druze Israeli village of Isfiya on suspicion of starting the blaze “through negligence” by leaving behind burning embers after a family picnic.

More than 30 firefighting aircraft flew sorties over the forest and scrub early on Sunday, Israeli media reported.

As Israel does not have firefighting planes of its own, aircraft were brought in from several countries, including Greece, Britain, Cyprus Turkey, Russia and France.

France’s ambassador to Israel, Christophe Bigot, said Paris had sent five of its total of 10 aerial firefighting units. In another sign of solidarity, 20 Palestinian firefighters joined the multinational effort on Sunday.

Reuters reported that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas expressed condolences to Netanyahu for the Israelis killed in the fire on Thursday, while Ismail Haniyeh, Hamas leader in the Gaza Strip, said the fire was “a punishment by God” against Israel.

Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government faced calls from politicians and pundits for officials to be sacked over the four-day-old forest fire.

Criticism also came from inside Netanyahu’s fractious ruling coalition.

“We need to take stock nationally as to how we as such an advanced sophisticated state achieved such a resounding failure,” Welfare Minister Yitzhak Herzog of the centre-left Labour Party said on Israel’s Army Radio.

Most critics targeted Interior Minister Eli Yishai, whose job it is to oversee the firefighters.

Many demanded that Yishai, of the ultra-Orthodox Shas Party, a pivotal coalition partner in Netanyahu’s government, resign for inadequate preparation of the firefighting system, which had not been able to bring the blaze under control.