While Jerusalem police prepared to protect the pride parade in the center of town Thursday afternoon, anti-parade protestors seeming decided to relocate their demonstrations. Less than an hour before the parade began, a number of protestors are suspected of having set fire to various spots in forests around the city.
Ten fire crews from the Beit Shemesh station, as well as six firefighting helicopters, are working to put out a conflagration that developed in the Eshtaol forest, west of Jerusalem, and another fire near Beit Shemesh.
Beit Shemesh fire chief Eli Peretz said that the fire in Eshtaol could have been caused by deliberate arson or by accident. The fire in Beit Shemesh was determined to have been caused by arson, apparently in protest of the gay pride parade in Jerusalem.
Several small fires in Jerusalem also appeared to be the result of arson by anti-parade protestors. City resident Gil Shiloh said that he noticed four fires near the Valley of the Cross, in central Jerusalem, and heard people praying in the background.
Fires near Valley of the Cross (Photo: Yaron Toren)
The flames in Eshtaol advanced towards residences in the moshav of Messilat Tzion, near Beit Shemesh. The Jewish National Fund said their crews responded to the fire almost immediately, but were unable to control the blaze. As such, Beit Shemesh fire crews took over.
Peretz explained that the warm weather was hampering efforts to contain the fires, but said there was no need, at the current time, to evacuate area residents near Eshtaol. In the Beit Shemesh area, evacuation will likely be necessary if the blaze is not brought under control soon.
Following the rash of fires, Chief Fire Inspector Shimon Romach told Ynet "we're concentrating on putting out the fires for now and will conduct investigations later."