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Australia deploying firefighter experts to Israel

SYDNEY, Australia (JTA) — Australia is deploying a team of firefighting experts to help Israel contain its worst ever forest fire.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard said Sunday that the team would leave Australia within 24 hours to help battle the inferno that has claimed 42 lives.

The team, which is expected to direct firefighting aircraft, will be led by Victoria’s chief fire officer, Ewan Waller, who in 2009 fought in Black Saturday, Australia’s worst bushfire in which more than 170 lives were lost.

The prime minister spoke directly to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to "confirm Australia’s assistance and convey her condolences, and those of the people of Australia, to the people of Israel at this difficult time," according to a statement.

Arrangements are also under way to transport chemical fire retardant if needed, Gillard’s office said.

"Australia stands ready to offer assistance to Israel," Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd, who is due to visit Israel later this month, said in a statement last Friday. "Australians know directly the devastating impact inflicted by bushfires.  I will travel to Israel later this month for an official visit, and will convey my sincere condolences in person to Israeli leaders and people."

The Israeli Embassy in Canberra thanked the Australian government.

"These actions highlight the deep friendship between our two nations and shows Australia’s willingness to stand with us during in this trying moment," Israeli Ambassador Yuval Rotem said in a statement.
 

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