Obama Offers Help as Fire Ravages Israel's North

U.S. pledges assistance as blaze creeps toward Haifa; Netanyahu calls emergency cabinet meeting.

U.S. President Barack Obama on Thursday night offered condolences to the families of 40 victims of a massive brushfire that tore across Israel's north, pledging American aid to help fight the blaze.

"I want [to offer] our deepest condolences to the families and loved ones of all those who died as a result of the terrible forest fire in northern Israel," Obama told Jewish community at a Hannukah candle lighting ceremony at the White House.

U.S. President Barack Obama

"As rescuers and firefighters continue in their work, the United States is acting to help our Israeli friends respond to the disaster," he said.

Obama told reception guests, among them Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren, that planning had begun to send assistance to Israel.

"A short while ago, our ambassador in Tel Aviv, Jim Cunningham [] launched an effort to identify the firefighting assistance we have available and provide it to Israel as quickly as possible," he said.

He added: "Of course, that's what friends do for each other."

fire - Hagai Frid - December 2 2010
Hagai Frid

New York's fire department had also agreed to send a firefighting airplane to Israel, Army radio reported.

In Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he would call an emergency cabinet meeting, vowing government support for "every citizen forced to leave his home".

The fire first broke out late morning Thursday and by the evening had swept down the slopes of the Carmel plateau towards the city of Haifa, leaving 40 dead and over 13,000 residents displaced. By the early hours of Friday, the blaze was still not under control.