The Israeli Fire Department suspects that the fires that started over the weekend may have been part of a large-scale arson plot.

According to the Western Galilee fire department, about 200 dunams of land - approximately 50 acres - were destroyed in 44 fires set on Friday.  The ares affected include Gilon, Har Gamal, Achihud and Yas’ur.  In addition, three residents of Yas’ur suffered smoke inhalation injuries.  Spokesman Yigal Ben-Abu said that most of the fires had a single point of origin, which signals arson, as does the fact that many of the the fires were not in regions frequented by hikers.

However, the Israeli Police has taken a much more cautious approach, saying that it is possible that the extremely dry condition likely contributed to the fires as well as recklessness amongst campers who did not extinguish fires completely.  The police also exhorted the public to not assume that the fires were set by arsonists.  Neither party would say whether the fires were set by Arabs with nationalist motives or as part of a terrorism campaign, although the fire department indicated as such.

MK Aryeh Eldad called the fires a terrorist attack and linked the fires to prisoner exchange that led to Gilad Shalit’s freedom.  He said that Israel is “witnessing a new wave of terrorism which is a result of the boost provided to terrorism when hundreds of terrorist murderers were released”.  Other MKs from the Nationalist camp condemned the attacks and demanded that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu act decisively against “the next wave of terrorism”.  In addition, the MKs called the fires an attack on Israel’s natural resources, the most important of which are trees and water.

Last December, a massive fire in the Carmel forest led to the destruction of close to 5 million trees and 250 houses.  During that fire, 44 died and 17,000 were evacuated.  That fire was eventually found to have been accidentally started, although those responsible were tried and jailed.

While firefighters were combating the blaze, several northern communities - including an old-age home - were evacuated successfully. Most of the residents were then allowed to return to their homes.