Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited the Druze village of Usfiya on Sunday after convening his cabinet in the northern city of Tirat Carmel. Although the fire raging on Mount Carmel in the past few days began in Usfiya, Israel's Druze residents are among its main victims.
Several of the prison guards killed in a bus caught in the fire belong to the Druze sector, and the wildfire destroyed millions of trees and burned down thousands of acres of land near the villages of Usfiya and Dalyat al-Carmel.
Netanyahu spoke about the sights and sounds he experienced on the way. "We stopped on the Carmel range and heard the whisper of the great bird," he said, referring to the Evergreen Supertanker aerial firefighting aircraft which went into action on Sunday morning.
"We are less than 72 hours into the event, and I think we are beginning to gain control," said the prime minister, who decided earlier to halt the arrival of additional planes. "We will know more tonight, and we may use this Supertanker tonight. We'll operate it in a bid to put the fire out once and for all."
Netanyahu, who met with senior Druze officials in Usfiya, preferred to look on the bright side. "In other countries, big fires took longer. We have been asked, 'How can you put out a big fire in less than three days, while it takes other countries three weeks?' My response was, 'We have no other country, and it's a very small country.'
"The government's mission, the firefighters' mission, the IDF's mission, the Air Forces' mission is one – saving our small country, our Carmel. I hope we will get there today. This is the land of all of us."
Firefighting plane on backdrop of smoke (Photo: Dror Einav)
The prime minister expressed his condolences to the families of the Druze victims. He turned to Usfiya Mayor Wajia Kayuf: "You said there are Druze, Muslims, Christians and Jews in one community here, on the same mountain, in the shadow of the same trees. We are working together to guarantee our future, our landscape, our life.
"I have ordered an action plan within 24 hours and an immediate solution for the people. People have got to live."
Netanyahu said he was advancing a plan to restore the green mountain, which has turned black. "The Carmel is something special, so there is international willingness to restore what has been destroyed. The international recruitment included our Arab neighbors. We received help from Jordan's King Abdullah. Egypt's president, the Palestinian Authority chairman. May this disaster bring about good, bring about peace."
The Usfiya mayor criticized the authorities conduct after the flames erupted, noting that the community was surrounded with fire and that the residents received no aid.
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