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Thousands mourn 21 victims of devastating apartment fire in Gaza

At least 7 children among the dead buried in joint funeral; relative of the fatalities says blaze occurred during a family reunion

Palestinians carry the bodies of people who died when fire broke out in an apartment, in the Jabalia camp in the northern Gaza strip, on November 18, 2022. (Said Khatib/AFP)
Palestinians carry the bodies of people who died when fire broke out in an apartment, in the Jabalia camp in the northern Gaza strip, on November 18, 2022. (Said Khatib/AFP)

Thousands of Palestinians turned out on Friday for a joint funeral for 21 people who died in a fire in a Gaza Strip apartment building.

At least seven children were among the dead in the blaze at Jabalia camp on Thursday night, said the head of the camp’s Hospital, Saleh Abu Lai.

Shrouded in Palestinian flags, the dead were carried through crowds of mourners to the Beit Lahia cemetery where they were buried.

While the cause of the fire remained unknown, a spokesman for the Hamas-run Civil Defense in Gaza told AFP that supplies of fuel were stored in the three-story building.

“We don’t know exactly what happened,” said Mahmoud Abu Raya, a relative of the victims, explaining that the blaze had struck “during a family reunion.”

The blaze erupted on the third floor of the building in the crowded camp, according to the Palestinian terror group Hamas, which rules the Strip.

Israel said it would allow the passage of the wounded through the Erez checkpoint, but the 15 people injured in the fire were hospitalized in Gaza.

They were discharged on Friday, according to the territory’s health ministry.

Palestinians gather in front of a building as firefighters extinguish a fire which broke out in one of the apartments in the Jabaliya camp in the northern Gaza strip, on November 17, 2022. (Photo by MAHMUD HAMS / AFP)

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.

With electricity supply sparse in the impoverished territory, domestic blazes are common, as Gazans seek alternative sources for cooking and light, including kerosene lamps.

Outgoing Defense Minister Benny Gantz expressed sympathy for the “serious disaster” in Gaza.

Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas, based in the West Bank — a separate Palestinian territory — considered the fire “a national tragedy,” his spokesman said.

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