An Israeli plane fighting fires above the Jerusalem area. (Yoav Ari Dudkevitch/Flash90) (Yoav Ari Dudkevitch/Flash90)
Jerusalem fire

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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Saturday ordered the dispatch of firefighting aircraft from Israel to assist Cyprus in its efforts to extinguish a massive brush-fire near Paphos.

Cyprus has been battling one of the largest fires it has encountered in recent years.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement that its situation room received a request from Cyprus pursuant to the close relations between Cyprus and Israel and the regional alliance between them. There is also an agreement on emergency assistance.

Efforts are currently underway to organize the dispatch of an Israeli rescue team as well as additional firefighting aircraft.

A Cyprian spokesman for the firefighting services said that they so far have not been unable to bring the blaze under control due to strong winds. No residential areas were in danger.

During the fire on Mt. Carmel in northern Israel in 2010, Cyprus was one of the first countries to send a firefighting aircraft.

In April, Israel, Greece and Cyprus conducted their first joint firefighting exercise.

The joint three-day exercise, which took place in Cyprus, was the first practical result of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s initiative to build a wide-ranging system of emergency cooperation between the countries, including firefighting and handling of natural disasters.

The objective of the international collaboration is to construct a web of strategic relationships and bilateral and multilateral cooperation which will be functional during emergency situations. Israeli planes battling blazes in Cyprus is a result of this international collaboration.

Speaking at the weekly Cabinet meeting on Sunday, Netanyahu expressed pleasure over Israel’s “ability to extend this assistance.”

“Several years ago, during the massive Carmel fire, I contacted the President of Cyprus, he was the first I turned to, and the Prime Minister of Greece, that they should send firefighting aircraft. They had one such aircraft. They took it out of its hangar and sent it here. Last night I ordered that three of our firefighting aircraft, out of our fleet of 13 or 14, be sent to help them, and the planes are now in Cyprus. This is part of the regional arrangement we have made with Cyprus and Greece about emergency assistance,” Netanyahu stated.

By: Max Gelber, United with Israel