Arson attacks have occurred with alarming frequency over the past month around Jerusalem, and police and fire department officials believe the acts are politically motivated.
Two of the most popular flash points are Hashalom Forest in southeast Jerusalem and the Ofrit army base on the Mount of Olives, near the Arab village of Issawiya, Israel police spokesperson Mickey Rosenfeld told The Algemeiner.
The prevalence of such attacks has increased in the last year, but May saw a resounding spike, Captain Asaf Abras, spokesperson for the Jerusalem Fire Department said. “We call it a different kind of terror attack,” he added.
“It became a phenomenon since last year,” he continued. “Especially very close to the Arab villages and on the north side of Jerusalem.” In total there have been 80 such attempts in this area alone during the first 23 days of the past month alone Abras says.
“On this [the Ofrit] base, around and inside the base we found about 15 attempts [this month],” Abras details. The Hashalom Forest–or the Peace Forest– has been the target of 20 such attacks in the same time span.
“They call it a peace forest but there is no peace there,” Abras says, explaining the ease with which someone can set fire to the verdant landscape.
“They can stand on the hill and throw downhill a burning tire. You don’t need more than two men, one burning tire and matches,” he explains.
Abras said that Molotov cocktails have also been used and “one of the more recent arson [attacks] that was found was [committed] using fire crackers or fireworks that they [the perpetrators] can throw from a distance.”
Abras asserts that 2010′s devastating Carmel fire has literally lit the imagination of terrorists, as they saw what damage a fairly simple act of arson could cause. Then 44 lives were lost, 74 buildings destroyed and over 50,000 dunams of land leveled.
Rosenfeld says that authorities are trying to identify and track down the culprits, and that for now an increased police presence in the area is aimed at detering further arsonists.
“There are regular police patrols and police operations in the area that are in place as preventative measures,” Rosenfeld told The Algemeiner.
Observation points have also been set up and video cameras have been placed in the area as well.
Thus far, however, the number of arrests has been very low.
Further complicating the issue is the fact that some firefighters responding to the fires have been ambushed by Arabs throwing rocks and Iron bars. In one incident last week, a firefighter was injured when Issawiya residents hurled stones at firefighters responding to a fire that had spread between Issawiya and the Ofrit base. “One firefighter was hit on the chest by a stone that was thrown at him,” said Abras.
Abras also says that two fire trucks have also been damaged and voiced his concern about the violent trend.