WASHINGTON - Israeli firefighters Friday reined in a blaze that had spread across Haifa, the country's third-largest city, and forced tens of thousands of people to flee their homes, but continued to battle more than a dozen other fires around the country for the fourth day in a row.
Tens of thousands of people have been evacuated from their homes as police forces and firefighting units were heavily deployed in the Haifa area for fear that the fire could be reignited because of the rare dry, windy weather.
Meteorologists predict the fires will continue to burn because of the dry conditions in the country.
Arrests made; arson suspected
Though no serious injuries were caused, several dozen people were hospitalized for smoke inhalation. Hundreds of homes were damaged, and in a rare move, Israel called up military reservists Thursday to join overstretched police and firefighters and made use of an international fleet of firefighting aircraft sent by several countries.
Police officials say 12 people have been arrested across Israel on suspicion of arson. The Jerusalem Post reported that the Israel Security Agency, or Shin Bet, is investigating the fires to determine how they were set.
Some Israeli leaders have raised the possibility that Arab assailants had intentionally set the blazes.
"Only those to whom the country does not belong are capable of burning it," Education Minister Naftali Bennett, also the leader of a far-right group, tweeted in Hebrew.
Worst wildfires since 2010
The fires began three days ago at the Neve Shalom community near Jerusalem where Israelis and Arabs live together. Later, blazes erupted in the northern Israeli area of Zichron Yaakov and elsewhere near Jerusalem before the largest ones spread across Haifa.
The brush fires are the worst Israel has experienced since 2010 when Israel suffered its single deadliest wildfire in its history that burned out of control for four days, killing at least 42 people.
A number of countries, including Cyprus, Greece, Croatia, Italy and Turkey have pledged to send firefighting equipment, including planes and trucks.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.