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U.S. trying to help Israel fight fire

WASHINGTON (JTA) — The Obama administration is seeking ways to assist Israel in combating its forest fires, while New York sent Israel a shipment of fire retardant.

A 747 loaded with Fire Troll 931, a fire retardant chemical, left New York Thursday night bound for Israel. The shipment was arranged by the Fire Dept. of New York and the office of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

"I want to begin by offering our deepest condolences to the families and loved ones of all of those who’ve died as a result of the terrible forest fire in northern Israel," President Obama said Thursday evening, launching the annual White House Chanukah party. "As rescuers and firefighters continue in their work, the United States is acting to help our Israeli friends respond to the disaster."

A number of countries, including Turkey, Greece, Cyprus, Egypt and Jordan are assisting in attempts to squelch the blaze in the Carmel Mountains near Haifa, which has led to the deaths of 40 people and the evacuation of 15,000. The Palestinian Authority also has offered assistance.

"A short while ago, our ambassador in Tel Aviv, Jim Cunningham, issued a disaster declaration, which has launched an effort across the U.S. government to identify the firefighting assistance we have available and provide it to Israel as quickly as possible," Obama said. "Of course, that’s what friends do for each other."

Separately, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said: "We are moving as quickly as we can to provide this assistance, and are heartened by similar efforts to contribute resources from Israel’s other friends around the world."

In a conference call with media on Friday, top administration officials outlined steps the United States has already taken, including the shipping of 45 metric tonnes of fire retardant and 12,000 liters of foam suppressant.

Those materials have been purchased in the region, said Nancy Lindborg, an assistant administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, and should be arriving in Israel shortly. Additionally, three U.S. experts on aerial fiirefighting will be arriving this weekend.

Dan Shapiro, the senior National Security Council official dealing with Israel, said the administration was also looking into sending additional fire fighting planes to Israel.

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