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NICOSIA: A huge forest blaze in Cyprus has killed four people, destroyed homes and forced evacuations of villages as Greece, Israel and other countries deployed fire-fighting aircraft to the Mediterranean island.

The fire began on Saturday (Jul 3) afternoon and has swept through districts in the southern foothills of the Troodos mountains as the country grapples with a blistering heatwave.

“It is a tragedy,” President Nicos Anastasiades said on Twitter, describing it as “the largest fire since 1974” when the island was divided after Turkey occupied its northern third.

The blaze had caused “loss of life” and destroyed property and forest lands, Anastasiades said, adding that the government will provide immediate assistance to the victims and the families of the victims.

“We will not leave anyone abandoned in the destruction of the fire.”

Interior Minister Nicos Nouris said that four charred bodies were found outside the village of Odos in Larnaca district.

Cyprus Forest Fire
A view of flames from a fire in the Larnaca mountain region, Jul 3, 2021. (Photo: AP/Petros Karadjias)

“Forensic examiners are going to the scene for identification,” he told reporters on Sunday.

“All the indications support the fact that these are the four missing persons we have been searching for since yesterday,” he said, adding that all four of the dead are thought to be of Egyptian nationality.

The daily Phileleftheros newspaper said the four bodies were found about 400m from their burnt-out vehicle.

Janez Lenarcic, European Commissioner for Crisis Management, said on Saturday its “aerial firefighting capacity” had been mobilised, with Italy and Greece sending planes to help.

The office of Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said “two firefighting planes” would be sent. They were expected to arrive on Sunday.

Local media reported that a 67-year-old man had been arrested on suspicion he started the blaze.