At least 21 killed in fire at refugee camp in Gaza Strip

World

At least 21 people have been killed and several others injured following a fire at a residential building in a refugee camp in the Gaza Strip, officials say.

It took firefighters over an hour to control the flames which burst through the top floor of a four-storey residential building in the densely-populated Jabalia refugee camp.

Residents had been attending a party in the building, while witnesses said they heard screaming but added that they could not help those inside because of the intensity of the fire.

The UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) tweeted that reports say among those killed include eight children, four women and one retired UNRWA staff.

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

Gaza’s Interior Ministry said an initial investigation revealed that large amounts of gasoline had been stored at the site, fuelling the blaze. It was not clear how the gasoline was ignited.

Footage from the scene shows large crowds gathering outside the building, while Hamas police officers inside assess the site.

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

Hamas police officers secure the scene of burned apartment in Jabalia refugee camp. Pic: AP
Image:
Hamas officers secure the scene of burned apartment in Jabalia refugee camp. Pic: AP

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 enclave if necessary.

Israeli defence minister Benny Gantz tweeted that his staff would assist with evacuating those who were injured.

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.

Gaza, which is ruled by Palestinian militant group Hamas and under the crippling Israeli-Egyptian blockage, faces an energy crisis.

People often store gasoline and cooking gas in their homes in preparation for winter and house fires have previously been caused by candles and gas leaks.

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