Fire near Jerusalem forces village evacuations

Emergency service calls on firefighters from several regions to assist as strong winds fan flames

Residents of villages on the outskirts of Jerusalem were moved to safety on Sunday because of a large forest fire near by, Israeli police said.

Firemen supported by dousing aircraft were working to extinguish the blaze as the smoke blotted out the sky across much of the city.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett's office said he held a special meeting with security officials.

The fire threatened the villages of Beit Meir, Shoeva, Kissalon, Guvat Yearim and Ramat Raziel, west of Jerusalem, police said.

The villages lie close to the main motorway linking the city with Israel's commercial capital, Tel Aviv.

Residents were moved to safety and roads were blocked, police said.

"This is one of the biggest fires in the Jerusalem area in years," said Nissim Touitou, the region's fire chief.

Earlier, a spokesman for the Jerusalem fire service called on firefighters from several regions to assist as strong winds were fanning the flames.

A fire that broke out in the same area more than a week ago had been quickly brought under control.

The cause of Sunday's fire was not yet known.

Yitzhak Ravitz, the Mayor of Kyriat Yearim near the affected villages, told public radio his "town's doors are open ... to all families needing protection".

Several other Mediterranean countries have had forest fires amid soaring temperatures in recent weeks, including Greece, Turkey and Algeria.

Updated: August 15th 2021, 10:21 PM