HAIFA, Israel — Responding to an unprecedented Israeli distress call, aircraft from Turkey, Greece, Cyprus and Britain dumped sea water and flame retardant Friday, battling a woodland inferno that has killed dozens, displaced thousands and ravaged one of the Holy Land's most prized forests.
As the country mourned the dead, Israelis — long known for their high-tech society and vaunted rescue missions abroad — were stunned at their firefighters' helplessness in quelling the blaze, the worst forest fire in the nation's history.
Still, for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — embattled over the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace effort — it was also a chance to show that Israel was perhaps not so isolated after all. Even the Palestinian Authority pitched in with firefighting units.
Anguished families began burying the 41 dead. .
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The human tragedy was compounded by the loss of precious woodland in a country where only 7 percent of the land is forested.
The eruption of the blaze Thursday overwhelmed Israel's small firefighting force and prompted an unprecedented call for international help from a country better known for helping in other countries' disaster zones.
Yoram Levy, a spokesman for Israel's fire and rescue service, said firefighters battling strong winds were having trouble accessing the mountains and valleys.
Some 100 firefighters from Bulgaria arrived as well as fire extinguishing planes and crews from Greece, Britain and Cyprus, Israeli officials said. Additional planes were offered by other EU nations and Russia. The U.S. was sending a team of firefighting experts as well as tons of fire retardant and foam, and pledged to help with additional aircraft.
President Obama discussed the fire and expressed his condolences for the loss of life in a telephone call to Netanyahu from Air Force One after it departed from Afghanistan.
Netanyahu thanked the many states that stepped in to help Israel, saying the "one bright spot" in the calamity was "the solidarity of the peoples of the world with the people of Israel."