A group of 52 Israeli firefighters were sent in response to an appeal from the Greek Foreign Minister to help combat the huge fires  raging for more than a week.

(Communicated by the Foreign Ministry Spokesman)

After four days of grueling, round-the-clock activity in Greece, Israeli firefighters returned to Israel early Friday morning (31 August).

Israel had sent the group, numbering 52 graduates of the firefighters’ officers course, in response to an appeal from Greek Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis to the Israeli Foreign Ministry to help Greece combat the huge fires that have been raging there for more than a week.

Members of the Israeli embassy in Greece accompanied the firefighters and liaised between them and local firefighters as well as between the Israeli visitors and the Jewish community in Athens.

The Israeli firefighters operated mainly in the Kalamata area. This is a mountainous, forested region, difficult to maneuver in. The dedicated actions of the Israeli firefighters succeeded in saving one of the villages together with some of the surrounding forest. In an emotional encounter, the villagers expressed their gratitude to their Israeli rescuers

Greek newspapers, government ministers and normal citizens praised Israel’s readiness to lend a helping hand in Greece’s hour of need, and Olympic Airlines offered to fly the group for free.

Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni commended the firefighters and the Israeli embassy staff in Athens for their life-saving activities.

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(Communicated by the Prime Minister’s Media Adviser)

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert yesterday (Sunday), 2 September 2007, spoke with Fire and Rescue Service (FRS) Commissioner Shimon Romach and congratulated him for the contribution of the FRS cadets and firefighters who took part in firefighting actions in Greece.

The Prime Minister said that he was proud of the Israeli firefighters who responded to the Greek government’s request to assist local firefighters: "I am pleased that Israel leads not only in the level of assistance that it can provide its own residents but also in the voluntarism and contribution that its people can offer the world.  It was good to see that the despite the FRS’s many responsibilities, it found time to aid those in need overseas."