At least 21 people, including seven children, were killed Thursday evening when a fire erupted in a residential building in the Jabaliya Camp in the northern Gaza Strip, according to rescue workers and hospital officials.
The blaze erupted on the third floor of a three-story building in the crowded Jabaliya camp, according to the Palestinian terror group Hamas, which rules the Strip. None in the house survived.
Palestinian reports said the vast majority of the fatalities were from a single family — named as Abu Raya — that had gathered together to celebrate the return of a family member from abroad.
The Civil Defense in Gaza, which is run by Hamas, attributed the cause of the fire to gasoline that was being stored in the building. It was not immediately clear how the gasoline ignited, though initial reports indicated that it may have leaked and caught fire when celebrants lit candles.
Officials said an investigation was underway.
Flames were seen spewing out of the windows of the burning floor as hundreds of people gathered outside on the street, waiting for fire trucks and ambulances.
A spokesperson for the Gaza Civilian Defense Corps said the fire was extinguished after about an hour.
“The investigation team is still looking into the cause of the fire and the final number of victims,” he said.
— ???????? Palestine State News – PSN (@PalPSN) November 17, 2022
Sources from the Indonesian Public Hospital in the nearby Beit Lahiya initially said that several more people were injured and taken to the medical center, and that the death toll was likely to increase. It was later confirmed that all in the house had died.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas declared a national day of mourning in Gaza and the West Bank, calling the incident a “national catastrophe,” according to the PA’s official WAFA news agency.
A spokesperson for the PA’s Ramallah-based government said Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh had ordered urgent help.
Hussein al-Sheikh, the secretary general of the executive committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization, said he had asked Israel to open northern Gaza’s Erez Crossing for the wounded to get medical treatment out of the Strip if necessary.
Defense Minister Benny Gantz subsequently tweeted that Israel’s military liaison to the Palestinians, known as COGAT, had conveyed an offer to assist in humanitarian evacuation of casualties to Israeli hospitals.
“We have offered our assistance in evacuating injured civilians to hospitals via COGAT. The State of Israel is prepared to provide life-saving, medical aid to Gaza residents,” Gantz said, expressing sorrow on behalf of the State of Israel and its security establishment.
Tor Wennesland, the United Nations’ Middle East peace envoy, expressed “heartfelt condolences to the bereaved families, relatives and friends of those who died in the accident; the Government, and the Palestinian people.”