Israel sends group to help Brazil battle Amazon fires

Eleven-member team of firefighters and rescuers to assist local authorities with search-and-rescue operations as Bolsonaro feuds with Europe on environmental issues.

Israel announced Tuesday it was sending a delegation of experts on natural disasters to help Brazil combat the fires ravaging its Amazon basin.

“An Israeli delegation of firefighters and rescue experts is leaving for Brazil on Tuesday evening to help the local authorities,” the foreign ministry said.

The ministry said the 11-member team would depart Tuesday evening to assist Brazilian authorities with search-and-rescue and wildfire operations.

August saw the highest number of fires in the Brazilian Amazon since 2010, and a sharp increase compared to the year before.

The fires have consumed large swaths of the country’s Amazon rainforest, and have put Brazil under pressure on the diplomatic front.

Turning down other offers of international help over the worst fires in the Amazon in years, Brazil has accused foreign countries — particularly in Europe — of trying to meddle in its affairs.

But Brazil, whose President Jair Bolsonaro has good relations with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has accepted aid from the Jewish state, which last week said it would provide 100 tons of fire-fighting material.

Netanyahu’s office said Israel would send a shipment of flame-retarding chemicals to Brazil, while Bolsonaro tweeted that Israel was sending a specialized plane to help in the firefighting operation.

It was not clear when or what equipment was sent.

Israel and Brazil have strengthened bilateral ties since Bolsonaro took office earlier this year. Netanyahu made the first state visit by an Israeli leader in December 2018, days before Bolsonaro’s inauguration, then rolled out the red carpet for the far-right Brazilian in April.

Netanyahu’s pledges to help join a chorus of international concern over the devastating fires burning across the Amazon region.

But Bolsonaro has accused France and Germany of “buying” Brazil’s sovereignty after the G7 group of rich democracies offered $20 million in Amazon fire aid. He initially rejected the money unless his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron withdrew “insults” made against him.

Bolsonaro later said Brazil would accept bilateral aid to fight the fires, but has insisted the Latin American country must control the money.

Chilean President Sebastian Pinera announced that his country will send four water bombers to help fight the Brazilian blazes.

That is being done “thanks to financing from the G7 countries,” Pinera said.

Last week, US President Donald Trump said the United States was ready to help Brazil fight the fires and criticized the G7 for failing to consult Bolsonaro over its initiative.

The Brazilian president told reporters he would talk to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and repeated a demand that “our dear Macron” retract remarks relating to Brazil’s sovereignty over the Amazon before he would speak to him.

“Europe has nothing to teach us about preserving the environment,” Bolsonaro said, reiterating his plan for “sustainable exploitation” of the Amazon.

Bolsonaro later tweeted that he had a “productive” conversation with Merkel, who he said “reaffirmed Brazilian sovereignty over our Amazon region.”

Under growing pressure to do more, Bolsonaro issued a nationwide 60-day ban on burning that took effect Thursday.

Activists quickly doused hopes that the prohibition would work in the remote Amazon region where deforestation has surged this year as agencies tasked with monitoring illegal activities were weakened.

On the same day as the ban took effect, 2,300 new fires were detected — most of them in the Amazon basin — taking the total number for this year to 87,257, the latest figures from the National Institute for Space Research show.

Nearly 1,500 of the new fires were in the vast Amazon basin.

This year’s total is the highest since 2010 when 132,106 fires were detected across the country.

Para was the hardest hit state on Thursday, with 587 new blazes — up 67 percent from the previous day.

Police on Thursday arrested three people for burning several thousands hectares (acres) in a conservation area in Para.

Thousands of troops and firefighters, along with aircraft, have been deployed since the weekend, and the defense ministry says the fires are under control.

Bolsonaro claimed in a live broadcast on Facebook on Thursday that “this year’s fires are below the average of recent years.”


Read more: The Times of Israel