ALGIERS, Aug. 18 (Reuters) – Algeria blamed this month’s devastating fires on Wednesday on two groups it recently designated as terrorist organizations, adding that one was backed by Morocco and Israel.
The president’s office said police arrested 22 people for starting the deadly fires, but said the ultimate responsibility lay with the Islamist group Rashad and MAK, an autonomy movement for the predominantly Amazigh region of Kabylia.
Algeria has designated both groups as terrorist organizations this year. The presidency said on Wednesday that the MAK “is getting support and help from foreign parties, especially Morocco and the Zionist entity,” referring to Israel.
Neither the Moroccan nor Israeli foreign ministries were immediately available to comment on the accusation.
Algeria and its most populous neighbor, Morocco, have enjoyed poor relations for decades, with Algiers supporting the armed Polisario movement which claims independence for Western Sahara, a territory Rabat considers its own.
Algeria does not recognize Israel, referring to it in official statements only as the Zionist entity. Israel said this month that it would soon establish full diplomatic relations with Morocco.
Forest fires ravaged North Africa this month but were the most violent in Algeria, causing damage and casualties in several provinces, including Tizi Ouzou in Kabylia, east of the capital Algiers.
“The security services will continue their efforts to arrest the rest of those involved (…) and all those belonging to the two terrorist organizations,” the presidency declared after a meeting of the High Security Council.
Algeria recalled its ambassador to Rabat last month after a Moroccan diplomat in New York called on the Kabyle people to have the right to self-determination.
Morocco’s King Mohammed VI, in a speech in July, called for better relations with Algeria and the opening of their long-closed borders. Rabat offered to send aid to fight the fires, but Algeria made no public response.
Report by Hamid Ould Ahmed in Algiers and Ahmed El Jechtimi in Rabat, edited by Angus McDowall and Grant McCool
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