Fire rips through Gaza residential building, killing 21 people

A fire erupted during birthday celebrations in an apartment in Jabalia, spreading quickly through a four-storey building.

At least 21 people have been killed and several others injured after a fire ripped through a residential building in the densely-populated Jabalia refugee camp in the northern Gaza Strip, according to local sources.

Ambulances rushed several injured people to local hospitals, and Israel, which together with Egypt maintains a blockade on Gaza, said on Thursday it would allow in those in need of medical treatment.

The Palestinian WAFA news agency reported that several children were among the dead.

Gaza’s Interior Ministry said an initial investigation revealed that large amounts of gasoline had been stored at the site, fueling the blaze that quickly engulfed the building.

It took firefighters more than an hour to get control of the massive flames that burst through the top floor of a four-story residential building. Witnesses said they could hear screaming but could not help those trapped inside because of the intensity of the fire.

Hamas, which governs Gaza, said an investigation was under way to determine the cause of the fire. [Mahmud Hams/AFP]

Hamas, which governs Gaza, said an investigation was under way to determine the cause of the fire.

“It’s a tragic incident. Many of the victims haven’t yet been identified as they have been burnt badly,” Al Jazeera correspondent Youmna ElSayed, reporting from Gaza, said.

She said candles lit during a birthday celebration caused the fire. “When candles were lit up, a fire quickly erupted and an explosion took place,” she said.

The civil defence services in the city are not adequately equipped to tackle such emergencies effectively, Al Jazeera’s ElSayed said.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called it a national tragedy and said there would be a day of mourning.

Hussein al-Sheikh, secretary-general of the executive committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), said in a statement that the Palestinian Authority urged Israel to open the Erez crossing with Gaza to transport serious cases in order to treat them outside the besieged enclave if necessary.

Jabalia is one of eight refugee camps in Gaza, home to 2.3 million people and one of the world’s most densely populated areas. The enclave has been under an air, sea and land blockade imposed by Israel since 2007.

“The President gave instructions to provide all forms of medical and other assistance urgently,” al-Sheikh said on Twitter.

A spokesman for COGAT, the Israeli defence ministry unit that manages the Erez crossing, told AFP that Israel “will provide help… as needed” through the transit point.

UNRWA, the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees, tweeted that it was “deeply saddened by the tragic death of 21 people” in the fire and expressed its “deepest condolences to families and the community”.

Tor Wennesland, the UN’s Middle East peace envoy, also expressed “heartfelt condolences” to the families of those who died in the incident, in a post on Twitter.

Palestinian firefighters extinguish a fire in Gaza.
Palestinian firefighters at the building in Jabalia refugee camp [Mahmud Hams/AFP]

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