Israeli police arrest three Palestinians suspected of arson in Dead Sea blazes – Haaretz

The fire caused damage to 125 acres of vegetation was contained after hours of efforts by 16 firefighting crews
Yotam Berger, Zafrir Rinat | Sep. 11, 2018

Israeli police arrested three Palestinians for suspected arson in the blazes that broke out early Tuesday at the Einot Tzukim Nature Reserve in the northern Dead Sea.

The fire caused damage to 500 dunams (125 acres) of vegetation. Following the fire, Route 90 was partially closed.

According to the police, the three were stopped while driving “suspiciously” along Route 90. In the car, police found funnels and reported a strong smell of fuel coming from the vehicle and the passengers’ clothing.

Two of the suspects are residents of East Jerusalem, while the third is from Eizariya, a town in the West Bank. The suspects, all in their 20s, are currently under investigation.

A family member of one of the suspects told Haaretz that the three deny all allegations being attributed to them. According to him, they carried petrol in order to refuel the car, which got stuck. The vehicle is now held by police.

Sixteen fire crews and four aircraft worked overnight to stop the advance of the fire northward inside the reserve. The fire was contained Tuesday morning.

The fire department said that an emergency assessment will be held Tuesday with all the emergency authorities regarding the continuation of firefighting and aircraft operations.

The manager of the Einot Tzukim Nature Reserve, Eldad Hazan, said that some of the animals living in the reserve died in the blazes.

“Those who were especially hurt were small animals, mostly insects and reptiles, some of which are unique to the reserve,” Hazan said.

Most of the animals that died reptiles, which are slower and therefore struggled to escape. Nonetheless, Hazan said that “the damage is great but we believe that the reserve will recover quickly.”

In the coming days, the Nature and Parks Authority personnel are set to act to prevent the fire from spreading out again in the reserve, which has been closed to visitors.

Later they will have to assess whether it could be reopened; it may be that it will remain close in the near future so as not to jeopardize travelers.
Control gained over Einot Tzukim renewed fire YNET

Following a mass fire destroying Tuesday hundreds of Dunams of the nature reserve near the Dead Sea, blaze sparks again; fire department manages to put out the flames.
Elisha Ben Kimon, Gilad Carmeli |Published: 09.12.18 , 22:30

After flaring up again Wednesday evening, firefighters have regained control over the fire which destroyed hundreds of dunams of the Ein Tzukim Nature Reserve near the Dead Sea on Tuesday.

As the fire erupted again, Highway 90 was closed to traffic and was reopened once the firefighting teams managed to put out the blaze.

The spokesman for the West Bank’s fire department said two firefighting teams had operated in the northern part of the reserve, and managed to prevent the flames from spreading.

Three Palestinians suspected of executing the alleged arson attack causing the fire—residents of east Jerusalem and nearby village of Azaria—were arrested shortly after the fire sparked Tuesday morning.

According to the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, the rehabilitation of the Ein Tzukim Nature Reserve will take years.

Between 300 and 400 dunams of the reserve’s unique vegetation were destroyed and many animals perished as well.

The police representative said at the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court hearing to extend the remand of two of the suspects that, “From looking at the pictures of the (scorched-ed) reserve, one can think he is looking at one of the Gaza border communities, rather than at the Dead Sea area.”

The suspects claimed that they had been stranded without fuel and one of their friends helped them transfer fuel from his vehicle.

The police argued that “their version does not match the findings on the scene,” adding there are contradictions in their narrative.

Judge Ilan Sela was asked to extend their remand by 15 days. However, he determined the suspects would remain in custody for merely two more days.

“Both are suspected of arson with the goal of causing harm to the nature site. The investigation indicates a reasonable suspicion linking them to the fire in the reserve,” Sela stated.

One of the suspects’ uncle said, “They traveled to the Dead Sea to enjoy themselves, like many young people from the area do their age, and on their way back they ran out of gas, so one of the friends helped them transfer fuel from his vehicle to theirs. Then the police arrested them on charges of arson, but they have no connection (to the incident).”

The mother of one of the suspects added, “My son just went for a ride and got stuck without fuel. The police claim that the fire was sparked after someone lit a cigarette and threw it near the fuel, but our son does not smoke at all.”

Attorneys Ataf Farhat and Hammad Rabah, lawyers for two of the suspects, said, “They didn’t have anything against the nature reserve. They are not nature-haters.

“Were they investigated on suspicion of harming the State of Israel?” the attorneys wondered.

“Perhaps the police’s allegations are satisfactory for the media but they have no basis of truth. Even if they caused the fire, it was surely not nationalistically-motivated as the police imply, they have no reason to harm birds, trees or vegetation,” they went on to say.

In 2008, a larger fire broke out following the infiltration of smugglers from the Dead Sea and since then much of the vegetation has not yet been rehabilitated.

Security forces searching for the infiltrators fired illumination bombs, with one of them leading to a huge fire that destroyed some 2,000 dunams of the reserve.,7340,L-5348849,00.html