Official claims deadly Gaza house fire caused by party stunt

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GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — Investigators said Sunday that last week’s massive apartment fire in the Gaza Strip was ignited accidentally by a man using gasoline in a party trick, but did not explain how they reached that conclusion. The blaze killed 22 members of the same family and there were no survivors who could have described the events.

The fire had erupted Thursday in the third-floor apartment of the Abu Raya family home in the crowded Jabaliya refugee camp in northern Gaza. Officials initially said 21 people were killed. Gaza attorney general Mohammed al-Nahal said Sunday the death toll reached 22, without elaborating.

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

“The cause of the blaze was Nader using gasoline in a celebratory show with fire during the party,” the Hamas-appointed attorney general said in a statement. “He lost control and the flame reached the gasoline container nearby and the fire erupted.”

The resulting blaze was the deadliest incident in recent years outside the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Those killed were from three generations — a couple, their five sons and one 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 talked to a relative of Nader Abu Raya who doesn’t live in the building. The woman said that he liked to perform party stunts with fire. No questions were allowed after the statement by the prosecutor.

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

Initially, Hamas said the fire broke out due to the storage of gasoline, which is not uncommon given the severe energy crisis engulfing Gaza since the militant Hamas 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 a lone fire truck arrived at the scene, but it was not equipped with a ladder to get firefighters to the third floor.

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

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