A statue stands outside a burning house in Ein Hod, northern Israel, 04 Dec 2010
A statue stands outside a burning house in Ein Hod, northern Israel, 04 Dec 2010

Israel has made little progress in a battle against a flaming inferno that has left at least 41 people dead.

Planes and helicopters from many nations are battling a raging wildfire that has burned at least 4,000 hectares of forest in the Carmel Mountains in northern Israel. More than 17,000 people have been evacuated and many homes destroyed in the worst fire in Israel's history. And there is no end in sight; the fire is raging out of control.

In a small country with few wooded areas, the toll in human and natural resources is seen as a national disaster.

"This is a great tragedy," said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu "We've lost over 40 people who were horribly burned to death, we have people struggling for their lives in hospitals, we have missing persons. The great nature reserve of the Carmel, one of the great nature reserves in the world, is being consumed by fire."

Israel was quickly overwhelmed by the fire which erupted on Thursday.  At least 19 countries have answered Israel's appeal for help, from the Middle East to Europe to the United States. They have provided planes, firefighters and equipment.

"The one bright spot in this is the solidarity of the people of Israel, and no less than that the solidarity of the peoples of the world with the people of Israel," said the prime minister.

Police say the cause of the blaze was negligence and not arson or terrorism. So the question many Israelis are asking now is why an arid country that is prone to wildfires was caught totally unprepared to deal with the disaster.

The Israeli government says it will announce plans next week to buy sophisticated fire-extinguishing aircraft, but critics say it is too little, too late.

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