Mourning as house fire kills 21 in Gaza Strip

Special Mourning as house fire kills 21 in Gaza Strip
This aerial view shows Palestinians carrying the flag-draped bodies of people who died a day earlier, when fire broke out in an apartment, in the Jabalia refugee camp in the northern Gaza strip, on Friday. (AFP)
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Updated 18 November 2022

Mourning as house fire kills 21 in Gaza Strip

Mourning as house fire kills 21 in Gaza Strip
  • Israel accused of preventing entry of Civil Defense equipment amid blockade

GAZA CITY: Crowds on Friday mourned the deaths of 21 Palestinians who perished in a tragic fire in their apartment in Jabalia refugee camp on Thursday evening.

Tens of thousands on Friday took part in the funeral of the victims — most of whom were women and children — of the house fire that struck the Abu Raya family in the northern Gaza Strip.

The Jabalia camp is the largest of eight camps in the Gaza Strip, with a population of more than 2 million Palestinians living in harsh economic conditions.

A grandfather and grandmother, two sons and two daughters, their wives, husbands and children died in the most tragic accident in the Gaza Strip in 2022.

Civil Defense could not rescue any of the victims before their bodies were consumed by the fire on the third floor of the residential apartment, where the family was gathered.

The family’s neighbors accused firefighters of arriving about 40 minutes late to the scene of the fire, which lasted between 90 minutes and two hours.

One of the eyewitnesses, who took part in the attempt to extinguish the fire before the arrival of rescuers, said: “When we heard a distress call from the family and saw the fire, we went up to the third floor, which was locked with a metal door.

“After opening the door with the help of the police, we were unable to enter because of the thick smoke as a result of the fire.”

The witness added: “Firefighters arrived at the scene no less than 40 minutes after the fire occurred.”

Another eyewitness said: “When the fire trucks arrived, they did not have the necessary equipment to reach the third floor, and a car with a crane arrived after about an hour.”

The witness also told Arab News: “The firefighters were aiming water hoses at the windows from the ground toward the burning apartment, which took a long time to put out the fire.”

Local authorities, led by Hamas, accused Israel of preventing the entry of necessary equipment for the Civil Defense as a result of the blockade of the Gaza Strip, which has lasted for more than 17 years.

The government media office in Gaza called on the international community to press for lifting the blockade in order to aid Civil Defense, “which suffers from a shortage of supplies.”

Initial investigations by the Ministry of Interior showed that the family stored gasoline, which caused the fire to intensify and spread.

A specialized committee was formed to investigate the cause of the fire.

The testimonies of neighbors differed regarding the likely cause of the incident.

Some said that there was a gas leak in the apartment during the family’s celebration of a child’s birthday.

Others said that the family had gathered to celebrate the return of the eldest son from abroad and his receiving of a doctorate.

The Palestinian territories witnessed a general mourning declared by President Mahmoud Abbas and authorities in Gaza for the victims of the accident.

Palestinians expressed their deep sorrow over the death of an entire family in the fire.

Fatima Al-Sinwar, from Jabalia camp, said: “Gaza was doomed to mourn at all times and by various means, whether by fire, war or blockade. Our hearts can no longer bear more than this pain.”

A spokesman for the Ministry of Interior said in a press statement that all those inside the house had died.

The UN, Egypt, Jordan, US and other countries offered their condolences to the victims of the fire.

The Gaza Strip has witnessed similar fire incidents that have claimed the lives of a number of Palestinians, the most prominent of which was caused by a gas leak in a bakery in the Nuseirat refugee camp in the central Gaza Strip in 2020, leading to 25 deaths.