by Nikki Guttman
Nearly half of Jewish National Fund forests and almost a quarter of Israeli nature reserves near Gaza have been consumed by fires
A firefighter at the Be'eri nature reserve after a major blaze is extinguished
More than half of the Jewish National Fund forests in the western Negev have been reduced to ash as a result of the past six months of arson terrorism by Hamas operatives in the Gaza Strip, the JNF said Tuesday.
According to the JNF, fires sparked by burning balloons and kites sent over the Gaza border into Israel have claimed 8,648 acres of land in southern Israel. Experts believe it will take years to rehabilitate the burned areas.
Of the nearly 9,000 acres lost thus far, roughly one-third, 2,965 acres, belong to the JNF and comprise more than half the total 5,189 acres of land the JNF owns adjacent to Gaza. The attacks have caused over 1,100 individual fires on JNF land alone since Hamas began employing the destructive tactic in May.
An additional 3,459 acres are designated nature reserves, a large proportion of which has sustained catastrophic damage. Nearly a quarter, 22%, of the Israeli nature reserves next to Gaza have been lost in the past half year.
According to the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, the nature reserves that have sustained the worst damage since the beginning of September include Be'eri, 78% of which has been lost to fires; Kurkar Niram (77%), Karmia (50%), Gvaram (30%), Nahal Grar (27%) and Habesor (21%). As well as consuming plant life, the fires have devastated local fauna, such as birds and turtles.
A total of 1,235 acres of cultivated farmland has also been lost to the arson attacks, as well as 988 acres of open land.
JNF Southern Region Director Daniel Gigi said: "Even though the wave of fires continues, thanks to the cooperation with the fire and rescue services, the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, members of local communities, volunteers, and the IDF, we are managing to put out the fires quickly."
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