The fires that began in the Carmel region in Israel’s North on Thursday afternoon have now been officially declared over, after raging for 82 hours. The incident claimed 41 lives and has completely destroyed around 12,500 acres of “planted forest, natural woodland, open spaces and built of areas” (see more). Almost five millions trees have also been destroyed. For a complete timeline of events as they unfolded, please click here.
Israeli fire fighters worked tirelessly in order to contain the fires, but it could not have been achieved without the assistance of the global community. Of the 35 aircrafts that worked to put out the fire, 24 were provided by foreign countries (see more). These countries included Greece, France, Cyprus, Britain, Spain, Switzerland and Turkey. Teams also arrived from Jordan and Egypt, and the Palestinian Authority sent three fire trucks to assist as well. Sunday saw the arrival of the world’s largest fire fighting plane from the United States – the “Evergreen” Boeing 747 Super Tanker. Watching it in action was an absolutely tremendous feat to watch on Israeli television. You can view various clips on the IDF Youtube channel.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was extremely grateful for the foreign support declaring, “we have nothing to be ashamed of. We live in a global world. We give help and receive help” (see more). It certainly was heart-warming to see so many countries so quickly come to Israel’s aid. While the foreign pilots and planes are still on call, they are expected to leave Israel sometime today, but only after a farewell ceremony where they will be awarded IAF medals.
Colonel Ronen Simhi from the Ramat David Airbase declared, “there was excellent cooperation. A partnership that crossed boundaries, languages and cultures. All were focused on one task: Saving lives and the Carmel landscape.” Brigadier-General Eden Atias stated at one of the ceremonies, “In the Air Force we say friends are measured in a time of need. The State of Israel found itself in trouble, in a disaster. You were there and proved to be true friends” (see more).
The Australian carried a story entitled ‘Turkey’s help with Israeli fires calms hostilities’ which seems to allude to the fact that Turkey’s assistance with the disaster has helped to alleviate the tensions between Turkey and Israel following the flotilla incident in late May. However, in contrast to the headline, the story actually paints a different picture, with reference to the fact that the humanitarian gesture does not change Turkey’s demand that Israel apologies for the deaths aboard the Mavi Marmara and compensates the families of the victims.
Israeli reports of the issue go into this deeper. On Friday it was reported in Ynet that Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyid Erdogan had declared, “This step must not be confused with other problems with have with Israel… Our demands are known by now. The ties between us will not improve until they officially apologise and compensate us” (see more).
On Sunday Erdogan continued, “One day we shall turn the page but first Israel needs to apologise and provide compensation” (see more). The Palestinian team sent to assist expressed similar sentiments about separating humanitarian aid from the conflict. Ibrahim Ayash, commander of the Palestinian rescue services team stated, “I see our aid as a humanitarian effort which has nothing to do with Israel-Palestinian relations. Our main concern is offering help and aid, which is why we will stay in the Carmel until the fires are out” (see more).
It is believed that Prime Minister Netanyahu phoned PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas to thank him for the assistance, the first such conversation between the two since peace talks broke down in September (see more).
Now that the fires have been contained, the recovery will begin. With over 250 houses damaged and an estimated NIS 200 million in damage, the rebuilding starts and the citizens will be demanding answers of the country on the condition of the Fire and Rescue Service. While different areas are looking to point the blame, a full investigation will be needed (see more).
Curiously, while the Age did print a story on the fires on Saturday, they also chose to run with a story by Jason Koutsoukis about a stray dog (not a euphemism) that he has taken in. Perhaps years of reading fluff pieces filed by Koutsoukis (see more here, here and here!) have made me over-sensitive, but surely there are more appropriate days (or pages?) to print stories such as these?