Two Minors Accused of Setting Fire to Forest in Northern Israel

The two, residents of a village in the Galilee, are accused of setting fire to dry leaves in a forest, causing a large blaze; Judge says that fire seems to have been a prank, not politically motivated.

Noa Shpigel
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The remains of a forest fire in Haifa, November 2016.
The remains of a forest fire in Haifa, November 2016.Credit: Rami Shllush
Noa Shpigel

Two 17-year-olds were indicted on Friday for allegedly setting fire to a forest in the Galilee, in the wake of a series of wildfires that blazed across Israel last month.

The Haifa District Court filed the indictment with the district's juvenile court, and asked that the two minors, from the northern community of Jadeidi-Makr, be kept in custody until the end of proceedings.  

According to the indictment, the two were with four other friends in the Ahihud Forest last Saturday. One of them lit a pile of dry leaves on fire and then doused it with sand and water. Shortly after, the two defendants set fire to two other piles of leaves and left the place with their friends. As a result, a fire broke out that destroyed an area of 80 meters and damaged some 15 trees, at the cost of 12,000 shekels.  

The two minors were arrested upon leaving the forest last Saturday together with their friends, who were released on Thursday to house arrest.

One of the minors' attorney, Abed al-Salam Huash, told Haaretz that he is planning on filing a request for an alternative to detention. "These are two minors who have been behind bars for a week, their freedom has been deprived and it's causing them a lot of damage," he said.

In previous court hearings, the judge noted that the fire does not seem to be politically motivated, but that the minors' actions seem to have been a prank.

Fires destroyed hundreds of homes across Israel last week. Though several cabinet ministers, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said the fires were an act of terrorism, Police and firefighters were to blame for any of these fires.

On Thursday, A Palestinian who was arrested on suspicion of politically motivated arson near the West Bank village of Battir was released Thursday after five days in custody, at the request of the police.

Arson suspect Katosh as seen trying to set fire to brush near the West Bank town of Battir on Saturday, November 26, 2016.
Arson suspect Katosh as seen trying to set fire to brush near the West Bank town of Battir on Saturday, November 26, 2016.Credit: Israel Nature and Parks Authority

An Israeli military court in the West Bank ordered the release of , who said he had set fire to weeds a few dozen meters from his house in order to burn trash. Afterwards, he put out the fire, he said. The police would not confirm his statement, despite the existence of a video clip documenting his moves.

The police told the court they were still looking into the suspicions against Katosh, but the release request suggests they do not suspect a political motive.

Several other detainees who were arrested on suspicion of arson have been released in recent days. The security forces refuse to disclose the exact number of people they arrested, but at least 12 people were held in Shin Bet facilities. Five have since been released.