Five Israeli firefighting aircraft were deployed on Sunday and Monday to help the overwhelmed government of Cyprus extinguish a massive forest fire.
“Last night I ordered that three of our firefighting aircraft, out of our fleet of 13 or 14, be sent to help them, and the planes are now in Cyprus,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said during a cabinet meeting on Sunday. “This is part of the regional arrangement we have made with Cyprus and Greece about emergency assistance. I am pleased that we are able to extend this assistance.” The following day, Netanyahu elected to send two more planes.
— IDF (@IDFSpokesperson) June 20, 2016
Netanyahu is returning the favor to Cyprus, six years after the island nation lent assistance in subduing Israel’s Mount Carmel forest fire, which killed 44 people and was the deadliest in Israel’s history. Cyprus lent its only firefighting plane to that effort.
Cyprus asked Israel for help late Saturday night after high winds left local firefighters unable to control the blaze near the village of Argaka. The fire has reached nearly six square miles in size—the largest one to hit the Cypriot coast in years. One firefighter has already been reported killed and at least five more injured. Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades said in a written statement Monday that the environmental damage was “irreparable.”
Anastasiades thanked both Israel and Greece on Monday for what he termed as their “invaluable help” in fighting the blaze. This past April, the three nations carried out a joint firefighting exercise in an effort to create a regional network for emergency cooperation. About 160 people from all three countries participated in the training, the Israeli Foreign Ministry said at the time.
Cyprus police believe that the fire was started by a twelve-year-old boy who attempted to burn dry grass outside of his grandfather’s summer home.
[Photo: @IDFSpokesperson / Twitter]