Last night 21 people, including women and seven children, died after a huge fire ripped through the third floor of their three-story residential building in Tel Al-Zaatar in the largest refugee camp in the besieged Gaza Strip.
All of the victims were from the Abu Rayya family, who had come together to celebrate the return of Dr Maher Abu Rayya who had just gained a PhD from Egypt. Maher is a former deputy minister in the Labour Ministry in Gaza. The family were also celebrating the birthday of one of Maher’s sons.
Investigations into the cause of the fire are ongoing, but a spokesperson for the Civil Defence Services in Gaza said fireworks were used in an area where there was a large amount of gasoline stored helping the fire spread across the apartment.
The whole family was killed in the incident, which is the most tragic since the last Israeli offensive on Gaza in May 2021 when 14 members of the Abu Al Ouf family were killed along with 30 others in Israeli air strikes.
In Gaza, the Hamas administered government said that it had ordered the Civil Defence Services to moblise all of its equipment to extinguish the fire as fast as possible in order to rescue any persons who were trapped, but a lack of necessary equipment meant their efforts failed
According to the spokesman of the Civil Defence Services, the firefighters responded immediately to the fire, but they found it had moved through the apartment quickly before their arrival.
Hamas, the Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas and all the Palestinian factions declared today as a day of mourning. Abbas ordered the Palestine flag to be flown at half-mast for three days and ordered all forms of assistance to be offered to the wounded. But there were no wounded, as everyone in the flat had perished.
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.”
Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz said, according to Israeli media, that Israeli 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.
But Israel is to blame for this tragedy. Israel has put Gaza under a strict sea, air and ground siege since 2006, when the Palestinians freely elected Hamas to power. Since then, the occupation state has put in place restrictions on the entry of most of goods and commodities into the besieged enclave. It has also prevented the entry of many equipment for hospitals, police and Civil Defence teams.
As part of the pressure it is exerting on Gaza’s residents, Israel has been increasing the suffering and exploiting the basic needs of the Strip’s residents. A lot of urgently needed medical and firefighting equipment need Israel’s approval before they are allowed into Gaza, and the wait for clearance remains ongoing.
Early this year, the Civil Defence Services produced the first locally made fire engine in cooperation with a local truck repair shop.This was not an effective solution as it consisted of a truck with a hose and pump attached. The pump had been taken from an old, decaying fire engine.In December 2019, Israel allowed around 20 rescue and firefighting vehicles into the Gaza Strip. Donated by Qatar, they included several SUVs fitted with water pumps. Before that donation, the Civil Defence Services had just 33 vehicles to serve the two million people living in the besieged enclave, including a single fire truck with a hydraulic platform.
The UN and the international community are also responsible for this tragedy because of their lack of serious and practical efforts to end the Israeli-Egyptian siege on Gaza. When they decided to help Ukraine, they immediately sent teams, arms, opened borders for refugees, etc… They also sanctioned the aggressor, Russia.
However, for 70 years Israel has been the subject of numerous UN resolutions, statements of condemnation and rulings of the illegality of its policies against Palestinians and yet no sanctions have been imposed against it nor have Palestinians been given aid to combat its aggression.
At the very least, the international community should force Israel to end its siege of Gaza and allow the entry of the population’s basic needs, medical equipment and fire fighting equipment.
Their inaction leaves them complicit in Israel’s crimes against Palestinians and the prolonged suffering of the people of Gaza.
Israel’s offer of help for the victims is another example of its hypocrisy. If the occupation state wanted to help the people of Gaza it would end the siege and its occupation and allow Palestinians freedom of movement.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.