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Israel wildfire kills 41, countries send firefighters

More than a dozen countries are helping to fight a wildfire near the northern port city of Halfa, which so far has killed 41 people.

International firefighting planes and tonnes of equipment began arriving in Israel early on Friday as more than a dozen countries pitched in to help fight a vast fire which has killed 41.

At least four Canadain water bombers could be seen flying through the smoke-choked skies over the northern port city of Haifa, pouring water and fire retardant onto the sea of flames.

Two firefighting choppers and three small planes were also involved in the huge task of curbing the inferno, which has swept across more than 10,000 acres (over 4,000 hectares) of land in the past 24 hours.

There are only 1,500 firefighters operating across Israel, a number widely accepted as woefully inadequate for a country of 7.6 people.

The fire service has no firefighting planes at its disposal, prompting an urgent appeal for international help from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Offers of assistance came pouring in and by Friday morning, five Greek aircraft had landed in Israel, alongside a plane and a police helicopter from Cyprus, a Bulgarian plane carrying 100 firefighters and a British chopper, an Israeli military spokesman said.

The foreign ministry said it had also received pledges of help from Azerbaijan, Croatia, Egypt, France, Jordan, Romania, Russia, Spain and Turkey.

Despite lingering diplomatic tensions between Israel and Turkey, Ankara said it would send two firefighting planes in a gesture personally ordered by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, CNN Turk television reported.

US President Barack Obama also said US firefighters were on standby to help, in a gesture echoed by Australia.

Battling the fire has also been hampered by Israel's lack of airborne fire retardant, rescue workers said, with stocks running low after a flurry of forest fires in what was the hottest summer since records began.

Media reports suggested Israel was also seeking international help to top up such stocks, although officials were unable to confirm the reports.



Published: December 3, 2010 04:00 AM

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