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Israel's Arabs open homes to fire evacuees

حريق في شمال حيفا الخميس 24 تشرين الثاني/نوفمبر 2016
جاك غيز (اف ب)
Arab activists have started initiatives to help those affected by the blazes, and families offer hospitality

Dozens of initiatives by Israel's Arab community and thousands of Arab families in the country opened their homes on Thursday to receive people affected by raging fires that forced tens of thousands to evacuate their homes.

Activists in the Bedouin village of Umm Hiran in the Negev were among those who said their homes were open to welcome those in need of temporary shelter, perhaps surprising some familiar with its current situation. The village is scheduled to be demolished to make way for a new Jewish town following a lengthy, unsuccessful legal battle with the government.

This came after a number of high-ranking Israeli officials, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said the fires were caused by arson and were equivalent to terror attacks, apparently implying that fires were started by Palestinians.

In the city of Haifa, where the largest blazes occurred, many Arab residents opened their homes to evacuees, while many students evacuated from universities were told by the Mossawa Center – which promotes equality for Israel's Arab citizens – that it would provide shelter.

Other Arab activists condemned the alleged arson, including Rajah Zaatreh of the Israeli Communist Party, who said: "The party condemns the clamor to blame Arabs for the arson in our beautiful city. And we call on all to show a spirit of responsibility and work to overcome this crisis with minimum losses and to uphold the values of coexistence and rejection of racism and hatred."

He noted that thousands of Arab families and individuals had expressed willingness to take in any families affected by the fires.

Two Haifa councilpeople, Dr. Suhail Assaad and Areen Abadi-Zoabi, said they were organizing volunteer groups to help evacuees, particularly students from the city's universities.

The Arab political party Balad announced that it had opened an emergency headquarters in Haifa to organize the reception of affected families.

And dozens of Arab families said they would host affected families, with Dr. Mansour Abbas of the Islamic Movement confirming that a number of mayors of towns had expressed willingness to cooperate and coordinate with the emergency headquarters. Families in towns throughout Israel, including Kafr Qassem, Kafr Bara, Rahat, and Kabul, had offered assistance.

Official sources say they estimate that at least 136 people in Haifa were injured by smoke inhalation. Hundreds of firefighters continue to fight the flames in the city where in 2010, 44 people, mostly guards, were burned alive on a bus as they traveled to evacuate a prison. Among the dead were Haifa's chief of police.

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