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International Teams Help Israel Fight Massive Forest Fire

Firefighters try to extinguish the flames in Tirat Hacarmel, northern Israel, 03 Dec 2010

Foreign aid is reaching Israel as a deadly wild fire rages out of control. The death toll from the massive blaze is now at 41.

Fire extinguishing planes from many countries flew into Israel to help the nation battle the biggest forest fire in its history. The fire erupted on Thursday. Most of the people who have been killed were on a bus carrying rescue workers that was trapped by the flames.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said it is a national disaster of unprecedented proportions.

More than 4,000 hectares of the Carmel Mountains in Galilee have been burned; at least 15,000 people have been evacuated.

Israel is unequipped to deal with the blaze so it appealed for help from countries in the area. Britain, Greece, Cyprus, Jordan, Egypt, Turkey and Bulgaria, among others, heeded the call, providing planes, firefighters and equipment.

Turkey's participation comes against the background of strained ties, in the wake of Israel's deadly commando raid on a Gaza aid flotilla in May, in which nine Turkish activists were killed.

Prime Minister Netanyahu offered special thanks to Turkey for assisting in the disaster.

Turkey said it remembers how Israel rushed to its aid in the past, for instance, sending elite rescue teams to the Turkey earthquake in 1999.

Officials say the fire originated from an unauthorized garbage dump, but it is not clear if the blaze was accidental or deliberate. The weather played an important role. It's the rainy season in Israel, but the weather has been hot and dry.

As Israel mourns its dead, questions are already being asked about why the nation was so unprepared. One newspaper commentator said Israel's inability to control the flames proves that it is not ready for the possibility of a massive attack from Iran.

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