New massive blaze erupts near Jerusalem

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A firefighter sprays water around a house in Nataf as wildfire burns on the hills and mountains around it, outside JerusalemNovember 25, 2016. (Reuters photo)

A new massive forest fire broke out late Friday near Jerusalem, while tens of thousands of people in the northern Israel were allowed to return home amidst a wave of wildfires.

The entire community of Nataf, which lies in Jerusalem hills, was evacuated for the second time on Friday since the wave of fires started on Monday.

In Haifa, Israel's third-largest city, residents were allowed to return home one day after 60,000 people, which is about a quarter of Haifa's population, were evacuated.

The blaze, which broke out in at least four sites simultaneously, consumed more than 600 homes in Haifa, said the Israel Fire and Rescue Service.

Dozens of firefighters from the United States were heading to Israel Friday amid 13 foreign firefighting planes' arrival, following Israel's call for international help.

The 747 Supertanker, the world's largest firefighting plane, has arrived at Israel. The plane can carry up to 74 tons of water or flame retardant.

In a rare move, the Palestinian National Authority also extended help to Israel, the occupying power of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and sent four firefighting vehicles.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed Friday accusations by Israeli leaders, according to which some of the fires were intentionally ignited by Palestinian citizens of Israel.

"Unfortunately, there is no doubt there have been incidents of arson," Netanyahu said, vowing punishment for terror and incitement.

Other right-wing leaders said the arsons were an act of terror and called on to cancel the citizenship of Arab arsonists.

Arab lawmakers reacted angrily to the accusation, saying such statements were inciting against the country's Arab minority.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah movement said Israeli officials were "exploiting the fire" to blame Palestinians.

MetaoTech weather service said the dry and windy weather conditions are expected to continue until the beginning of next week.

Israeli police spokeswoman Luba Samri said the police are still investigating if arson caused some of the fires.

In 2010, a massive forest fire in the Carmel ridge in northern Israel, which broke out amidst similar weather conditions, raged for days and killed 42 people.

The media harshly criticized Netanyahu for procrastinating in asking help from foreign countries. The incident led to a reform in the firefighting services, including the establishment of an airborne firefighting squadron.

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