Jerusalem Arabs blame kids’ fire deaths on IDF checkpoint

By Nir Hasson, Haaretz – 17 Nov 2009

Residents of Ras Hamis, an East Jerusalem neighborhood east of the separation fence, say two children died in a house fire two weeks ago while a fire crew had to wait 200 meters away at a checkpoint for lack of Border Police or army escort.

Residents say the fire crew had to wait 40 minutes while neighborhood people tried to get the injured out. A space heater reportedly ignited the blaze. The fire department acknowledges that security policy hinders the department’s work, but said the delay was only a few minutes, and the fire crew was at the scene of the house 10 minutes after the department received the call. One firefighter said the residents waited half an hour after the blaze began before alerting the authorities.

According to police and army instructions, fire trucks and ambulances are not allowed into the neighborhood without a Border Police or army escort.

There were six occupants in the house when the fire broke out. Four were rescued by neighbors, who reportedly broke down walls to get out those inside. Two brothers, a 4-year-old and a 6-year-old, died in the house, apparently from smoke inhalation.

Residents claim they saw the first fire truck, from the station in the Pisgat Ze’ev neighborhood, at the road block for 40 minutes before it was joined by a fire crew from the Arab neighborhood of Wadi Joz. The second crew reportedly did not wait for an escort and proceeded directly to the scene of the fire. A member of the Wadi Joz crew said the two crews arrived within minutes of each another, and the major delay was that residents waited half an hour after the fire broke out before alerting the authorities.

Fire and Magen David ambulance crews report there have been numerous incidents in which their crews on the way to emergencies have been attacked by Palestinians.

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