Official says deadly Gaza house fire was caused by party stunt

Investigators said on Sunday that last week’s massive apartment fire in the Gaza Strip was accidentally started by a man using gasoline as part of a sleight of hand, but did not not explain how they arrived at this conclusion. The fire killed 22 members of one family and no survivors could describe the events.

The fire broke out Thursday in the third-floor apartment of the Abu Raya family home in the overcrowded Jabaliya refugee camp in northern Gaza. Officials initially said 21 people were killed. Gaza Attorney General Mohammed al-Nahal said on Sunday the death toll had reached 22, without giving further details.

He told reporters that Nader Abu Raya had invited his parents, siblings and their children to celebrate the return of his older brother from a trip abroad. With all the guests gathered in the family home, Nader began cooking in the living room what was suggested to be a party trick involving gasoline, al-Nahal said.

“The cause of the fire was that Nader used gasoline during a celebratory fire show during the holiday,” the Hamas-appointed attorney general said in a statement. “He lost control and the flame reached the nearby gas can and the fire erupted.”

The resulting fire was the deadliest incident in recent years outside the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Those killed were from three generations – a couple, their five sons and a daughter, two daughters-in-law and at least 11 grandchildren.

Neighbors tried to get to the burning floor but were delayed by the outside door of the three-story building which was locked.

Investigators spoke to a relative of Nader Abu Raya who does not live in the building. The woman said he liked to do stunts with fire. No questions were allowed after the prosecutor’s statement.

The prosecutor presented videos previously recorded on Nader’s cell phone. He said the videos showed a house filled with potentially flammable objects, including painted car tires hanging from the ceiling.

Initially, Hamas said the fire started due to gasoline storage, which is not uncommon given the severe energy crisis that has engulfed Gaza since the Hamas militant group took over. control in 2007. Israel and Egypt imposed a blockade on the territory at the time to isolate Hamas.

The fire further exposed Gaza’s poor infrastructure. Witnesses said only one fire truck arrived on the scene, but it was not equipped with a ladder to bring firefighters to the third floor.

Israel says the blockade is necessary to prevent Hamas from stockpiling weapons. Critics see it as a form of collective punishment against Gaza’s 2.3 million residents.

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