Netanyahu offers Brazil help in fighting devastating Amazon fires

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Neri dos Santos Silva, center, watches an encroaching fire threat after digging trenches to keep the flames from spreading to the farm he works on, in the Nova Santa Helena municipality, in the state of Mato Grosso, Brazil, Friday, Aug. 23, 2019. Under increasing international pressure to contain fires sweeping parts of the Amazon, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro on Friday authorized use of the military to battle the massive blazes. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)

By TOI STAFF and AP 8/25/19, 1:35 am 

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke late Sunday with Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, offering Israeli assistance in battling the devastating fires burning cross the Amazon region that have caused global alarm.

Netanyahu’s office said that Israel would send a shipment of flame-retarding chemicals and noted that the prime minister had praised Bolsonaro for his decision to send tens of thousands soldiers got ready to join the fight against the blazes.

Bolsonaro announced Friday that his government would send 44,000 soldiers to help battle the fires that are scattered across his nation’s share of the vast Amazon, an overall region 10 times the size of Texas that is seen as a global bulwark against climate change. Only a few hundred troops had been sent so far.

Meanwhile Bolsonaro tweeted that Israel would send a specialized plane to help in the firefighting operation.

It was not immediately clear when the equipment would be sent.

This would be the second time this year that Israel has sent assistance to Brazil.

In January an Israeli Defense Force search-and-rescue team was sent to the South American nation to assist in searching for hundreds of people missing in the wake of a catastrophic dam collapse.

An Israeli military delegation prepares to leave for Brazil to perform search and rescue operations in the country after a dam burst, on January 27, 2019. (Israel Defense Forces)

Ties between Israel and Brazil have warmed with the election of Bolsonaro last year.

Netanyahu’s pledge joins a chorus of international concern.

Leaders of the Group of Seven nations said Sunday they are preparing to help Brazil battle the fires.

French President Emmanuel Macron said the summit leaders were nearing an agreement on how to support Brazil and said the agreement would involve both technical and financial mechanisms “so that we can help them in the most effective way possible.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said her country and others will talk with Brazil about reforestation in the Amazon once fires there have been extinguished.

Firefighters work to put out fires in the Vila Nova Samuel region, along the road to the National Forest of Jacunda, near to the city of Porto Velho, Rondonia state, part of Brazil’s Amazon, Sunday, Aug. 25, 2019. (AP Photo/Eraldo Peres)

“Of course (this is) Brazilian territory, but we have a question here of the rainforests that is really a global question,” she said. “The lung of our whole Earth is affected, and so we must find common solutions.”

Pope Francis also added his voice to the chorus of concern over the fires in Brazil, which borders his homeland of Argentina, and urged people to pray so that “they are controlled as quickly as possible.” He told a crowd in St. Peter’s Square that “we’re all worried” about the Amazon fires. He warned that that green “lung of forest is vital for our planet.”

Brazil’s country’s satellite monitoring agency has recorded more than 41,000 fires in the Amazon region so far this year — with more than half of those coming this month alone. Experts say most of the fires are set by farmers or ranchers clearing existing farmland. But the same monitoring agency has reported a sharp increase in deforestation this year as well.

Brazil’s federal police agency announced Sunday it would investigate reports that farmers in the state of Para, one of those most affected by the blazes, had called for “a day of fire” to ignite fires Aug. 10.

Local news media said the group organized over WhatsApp to show support for Bolsonaro’s efforts to loosen environmental regulations.

In this photo released by Brazil Ministry of Defense, a C-130 Hercules aircraft dumps water to fight fires burning in the Amazon rainforest, in Brazil, Saturday, Aug, 24, 2019. Backed by military aircraft, Brazilian troops on Saturday were deploying in the Amazon to fight fires that have swept the region and prompted anti-government protests as well as an international outcry. (Brazil Ministry of Defense via AP)

Justice Minister Sergio Moro, who oversees the police, said on Twitter that Bolsonaro “asked for a rigorous investigation” and said “the criminal fires will be severely punished.”

Critics have accused Bolsonaro’s pro-development policies of encouraging farmers and ranchers to increase efforts to strip away the forest, though the president has issued repeated pledges recently to protect the area, and backed that up by sending in soldiers and other federal forces.

Merkel noted that Bolsonaro is putting “significant forces” into the effort to save the rainforest.

But Bolsonaro has had a tense relationship with foreign governments — including Germany’s — and non-governmental groups that he accuses of meddling in his country’s management of the Amazon. He last week floated the idea, without evidence, that non-governmental groups were setting fires to embarrass him.

Macron’s office on Friday complained that the Brazilian leader “had lied to him” about environmental commitments.

Asked if he would speak with Macron, Bolsonaro said Saturday, “If he calls me, I will answer. I am being extremely well-mannered with him even though he called me ‘a liar.’”

Meanwhile, Bolivian President Evo Morales said Sunday he would welcome aid in fighting his own country’s wildfires, which have scorched more than 2,900 square miles (744,000 hectares) of land in the Chiquitanía region over the past two weeks.

He told a news conference that he had accepted offers of assistance from the leaders of Spain, Chile and Paraguay.

Source: The Times of Israel

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