Israeli fire death toll reaches 41
Aid arrives from foreign countries
The death toll from the worst fire in Israeli history reached 41 on Friday as firefighting crews and equipment from around the world began arriving to help the nation battle the devastating blaze.
The inferno, which began midday Thursday, continued to rage through forests in northern Israel and on the outskirts of the country's third largest city, Haifa. An unprecedented convoy of international assistance poured in after Israel issued a rare cry for help.
Israeli officials said some 100 firefighters from Bulgaria have arrived as well as forces from Jordan and Greece. Fire extinguishing planes were on their way from Britain and Cyprus as well as aid from the United States, Russia, Egypt, Spain, Azerbaijan, Romania and Turkey — which put aside recent tensions to lend a hand.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said all international aid was expected to arrive by Friday afternoon. In an interview with Israel Radio, he expressed hope that the fire could be suppressed by Saturday night.
Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said the death toll had risen to 41, all from a bus of Israeli prison guards that caught ablaze as it headed to rescue Palestinian inmates at a nearby prison threatened by the massive blaze.
Rosenfeld said 16 people remained hospitalized, including the police chief of Haifa who was in critical condition. Three others were seriously wounded.
Some 30,000 people were evacuated from their homes and more than 4,000 hectares of the Carmel forest in Israel's Galilee has been burned since the fire started, he said.
The Israeli cabinet was set to convene in the morning hours for an emergency meeting about the disaster. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the fire a "disaster of unprecedented proportions." He was set to inspect firefighting efforts after the meeting.
Israeli rabbis issued a special prayer for the victims of the fire.
Police also evacuated a university, three prisons and a hospital.
Investigators speculated that the fire could have been sparked accidentally, or it might have been deliberately set. But they largely ruled out any sort of attack by a Palestinian group.