4 Dec 2010

Two arrested over fire in Israel

10:00 am on 4 December 2010

Police in Israel have arrested two men on suspicion of starting a huge forest fire that is burning out of control in the north of the country.

An international effort is underway to help control the blaze, that has claimed 41 lives and caused 15,000 people to be evacuated.

High winds are driving the blaze towards the city of Haifa.

Aircraft from Turkey, Bulgaria, Jordan, Greece and Britain have arrived to assist, after a rare request was issued for foreign assistance.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said planes from Cyprus and Russia were on their way. Flame-retardant materials are being flown in from France.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has described the blaze as an "unprecedented disaster".

The BBC reports an emergency session of the cabinet was convened in Tel Aviv on Friday morning. Afterwards Mr Netanyahu thanked countries for their help.

"I think this symbolises an unprecedented response to our request for international help," he said.

Correspondents said he made a special point of thanking Turkey, which put aside recent diplomatic strains to send assistance. Turkey has sent two planes.

Mr Netanyahu then left to visit the injured and inspect the firefighting effort.

Police are investigating whether the fire was started by arson or negligence.