TEL AVIV (Jan. 4)
Four Tel Aviv youths were ordered jailed by a local magistrate today as prime suspects in Friday morning’s fire that caused an estimated $2 million damage to the Haaretz newspaper plant and several adjacent buildings. The fire the worst in Tel Aviv’s history, took 30 hours to bring under control and sent four firemen to the hospital for treatment for smoke inhalation.
Police said the four youths were caught near the scene of the blaze with incendiary material in their car. The police and fire-fighting authorities appear convinced that the fire was a clear case of arson and link it to the extortion racket that has been flourishing in Israeli cities. They have discounted terrorist responsibility despite a claim by the Palestinian news agency Wafa in Beirut that terrorists had planted explosives in the Haaretz building.
Haaretz, Israel’s leading morning newspaper recently published a series of articles on the protection racket. Despite the severe damage and the flooding of its press room, the paper continued to publish without interruption utilizing the plants and office facilities made available to it by the dailies Davar and Yediot Achronot.
Police and fire officials said the blaze broke out in the cave-like basement storerooms where huge rolls of newsprint are kept. The officials said the conflagration must have started simultaneously in several spots to account for its spreading so rapidly. In addition to gutting the Haaretz basement, it caused severe damage to adjacent shops and factories, including an underground emergency store room of the Red Magen David Society, Israel’s Red Cross.
SEE LINKS WITH OTHER FIRES
Police said the incendiary material found near the scene consisted of containers of inflammable liquid. According to one report, an empty fuel drum was found. Police are seeking links between the Haaretz blaze and two other serious fires that occurred recently in the same neighbourhood. They believe the earlier fires were also acts of arson intended to cover up thefts from two furniture factories.
Apart from the hospitalized firemen no casualties were reported among the Haaretz staff and linotypists who were at work early Friday preparing the morning edition. All evacuated the building safely. But much of Tel Aviv’s fire-fighting equipment was required to fight the fire that sent clouds of noxious black smoke pouring through the basement storerooms. Firemen wearing gas masks used a bulldozer to break through to the seat of the blaze and used foam machines to help quell it. Experts were still sifting through the smouldering debris this morning in search of further evidence.