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Israeli forces detain 23 Palestinians for suspected arson, fire erupts in Nablus

Nov. 26, 2016 8:28 P.M. (Updated: Nov. 27, 2016 3:23 P.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- At least 23 Palestinians have been detained by Israeli forces over suspicions of igniting fires or inciting others to arson, while a fire erupted on Saturday near the village of Qusin in the northern occupied West Bank district of Nablus, endangering several homes in the area.

According to a statement released Saturday by the spokeswoman of the Israeli police, Luba al-Samri, at least 23 Palestinians have been detained over suspicions of arson or “incitement,” adding that Israeli police have so far questioned some 30 “suspected arsonists.”

Meanwhile, Ramis al-Dala, the director of the Palestinian fire department, told Ma’an that a fire erupted in Nablus in the village of Qusin, prompting firefighters to arrive on the scene and attempt to control it before it could spread.

However, al-Dala was forced to request help from nearby civil defense crews as the fire continued to spread through the area, burning dozens of olive trees along its way.

Al-Dala added that several homes were threatened by the fire, and firefighters were still working to control it, adding that Palestinian authorities did not know if the fire was an act of arson or a result of the arid weather.

The mass fire ripping through Israel saw tens of thousands of residents forced to flee their homes, while wildfires also spread across the occupied West Bank, from the northern district of Nablus to Hebron in the southern West Bank.

According to Israeli media outlet Ynet, the fires had initially broke out near the Paz Bridge in the northeastern part of Haifa city, causing vehicles and buildings to catch on fire, and quickly spread towards Jerusalem.

Haaretz reported that Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan announced that the fires were expected to continue until next week as a result of heavy winds. However, fires in Haifa were reported to have been largely contained by Israeli, Palestinian, and international firefighting crews on Friday.

Israeli authorities have claimed that the fires were started by "political arson" against the Israeli state. However, other sources have said the fires were likely caused by a combination of extreme winds and a drought.

On Friday, Anas Abu Daabis, a 24-year-old Palestinian from Rahat city in the Negev of southern Israel, was detained by Israeli forces for alleged “incitement” over a Facebook post reportedly encouraging others to start fires.

However, Israeli media later reported that his detention came after Israeli authorities mistranslated his post, which read: “What kind of ignorance and lack of awareness are we facing? Our country is on fire and the Arabs are celebrating!” Abu Daabis was referring to statements made by Palestinians insinuating that the fire was revenge for Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.

“It’s a wonder when the brain stops working and turns into an idiot,” the post added, while also referring to other Palestinians who have linked the potential banning of the use of loudspeakers to broadcast the adhan -- call to prayer -- in Israel with the spread of the fires.

Meanwhile, other critics have claimed that Israeli politicians were quick to blame Palestinians for the fires as a political maneuver to further convince the international community of Palestinian hostility toward the Israeli state.

One Israeli journalist, Meron Rapoport, wrote for Middle East Eye that “the wave of fires has certainly shown how ready the Israeli leadership is to use any opportunity to portray the Palestinian minority as the enemy within, without waiting for evidence or even trying to pretend that it seeks cooperation with its 1.5 million Arab citizens.”

On Thursday, according to the Times of Israel, Israel’s far-right Education Minister Naftali Bennett used the occasion to point blame at Palestinians for the devastating fire, saying that “only someone who this land does not belong to would be capable of setting fire to it,” implying both that Palestinians were responsible for the fires and that Palestinians do not have any attachment to the land in Israel, from where some 700,000 Palestinians were displaced during the establishment of Israel in 1948.

Meanwhile, the Joint List -- the Israeli parliament coalition representing Palestinian citizens of Israel -- and the Fatah movement of the occupied West Bank condemned Palestinians who have celebrated the fires for revenge over the adhan, while Palestinian civil defense crews have provided reinforcement in order to assist Israel in controlling the fires in Haifa and Jerusalem.

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