Large fire rages near Jerusalem, trains halted, kibbutz evacuated

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Residents of a kibbutz near Jerusalem were evacuated from their homes on Wednesday as a large fire broke out in the Jerusalem Hills, leading to road blockages, train traffic interruptions and even halting the corruption trial against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, which was taking place in Jerusalem’s district court. 

Fire near Jerusalem, todayCredit: Ohad Zwigenberg

Dozens of firefighters were deployed in an effort to contain the fire, which broke out in the Nataf woods near the Ma’aleh HaHamisha kibbutz, about 7 kilometers away from Jerusalem. They were aided by 10 aerial tankers and one helicopter. 

Smoke billows over a large fire that broke out in the vicinity of Jerusalem, today

Due to the fire, trains between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv have been halted. Police blocked the Hemed Interchange for traffic. Route 425 toward Nataf was also blocked, as well as the road between Har Adar and Ma’aleh HaHamisha in both directions.

The proceedings of the trial against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, now in their second week, were halted due to the fires. In the case, which the police have dubbed Case 4000, Netanyahu is accused of bribery, fraud and breach of trust for allegedly giving Walla’s parent firm, the Bezeq telecommunications company, regulatory favors worth hundreds of millions of shekels in return for positive coverage on Walla.

In a press conference, fire chief Dedy Simhi noted that firefighters have been on strike for the past month, refusing to attend training sessions and drills. However, due to the gravity of the situation, the crews were participating fully in an effort to quell the flames, he said.

On Friday, 400 hundreds families were evacuated when a large fire broke out near Tzur Hadassah, some 12 kilometers southwest of Jerusalem. Dozens of firefighting crews were deployed. Smoke billowed as far away as the nearby settlements of Beitar Illit, Gush Etzion and Efrat.