The Latest: France sending planes to help Israel fight fires

JERUSALEM (AP) " The Latest on the wildfires in Israel (all times local):

8 p.m.

France says it is sending firefighting planes to Israel to help battle a series of wildfires across the country.

The French presidency said Thursday that President Francois Hollande had instructed his interior minister to dispatch three aircraft.

It says the planes will depart "as soon as possible." They will join a multinational firefighting effort that has also included assistance from Russia, Turkey, Greece, Cyprus and Croatia.

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7:45 p.m.

The Palestinian Authority has offered Israel assistance in combatting raging wildfires across the country.

The offer comes as Israeli leaders are implying that Arab arsonists are behind some of the fires.

The official Palestinian news agency WAFA said Thursday that the Palestinians offered teams of firefighters to help join an international effort to extinguish the fires.

Yousef Nassar, the director general of the Palestinian Civil Defense, said the offer was "a humanitarian message." The Palestinians assisted Israel during a deadly wildfire in 2010.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said some of the fires roaring around the country were the result of "terror," an apparent reference to Arab or Palestinian assailants.

Some 50,000 people have been evacuated from Israel's third-largest city Haifa, the site of the largest fires.

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7 p.m.

Israel's prime minister is blaming "arsonists' terror" for some of the fires raging across the country.

Speaking to reporters Thursday in Haifa, where the largest of several wildfires around the country has prompted the evacuation of tens of thousands of people, Benjamin Netanyahu said those setting the fires would be "punished severely."

Netanyahu did not elaborate on the identity of the suspected arsonists or their motives, but Israeli officials typically use "terror" to refer to Arab or Palestinian militant activity.

Earlier, Israel's police chief said arrests have been made, without elaborating.

Some 50,000 people have been evacuated from Haifa, Israel's third largest city. Fires have been sparked around the country for several days, with dry, windy weather spreading the flames quickly.

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10:30 a.m.

Israeli police have arrested four Palestinians in connection with one of several large fires that damaged homes and prompted the evacuation of thousands of people over the past few days.

Spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said on Thursday that police are investigating all possible causes, including arson. Windy and hot weather have helped fan the flames.

He says the blazes started three days ago at the Neve Shalom community near Jerusalem where Israelis and Arabs live together.

Later, fires erupted in the northern Israeli area of Zichron Yaakov and elsewhere near Jerusalem. In all, hundreds of homes have been damaged and thousands of people have been evacuated. About a dozen were treated for smoke inhalation.

Cyprus, Russia, Italy and other countries are assisting the Israeli firefighters with equipment as the fires continue.

This story has been automatically published from the Associated Press wire which uses US spellings

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