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Middle East
Israel bars entry to W Bank firemen
Ceremony to honour firefighters cancelled after Israel denies entry permits to Palestinians who helped battle blaze.
Last Modified: 14 Dec 2010 20:31 GMT
The fire left at least 41 people dead and destroyed dozens of homes in Israel's north [EPA]

Israel has barred a group of Palestinian firefighters from attending a ceremony where they were to be honoured for their help in battling a deadly forest fire last week.

At least 10 Palestinians were invited to attend the event in northern Israel, where the four-day fire left 41 people dead and ravaged large swaths of forest.

But Ahmad Tibi, an Arab member of the Israeli parliament and one of the organisers of the ceremony, said the event was cancelled when three of the Palestinians were refused entry permits to Israel on Tuesday.

He said the military had turned the firefighters away on security grounds.

"It's a theatre of the absurd," he told The Associated Press news agency. "This is a regular day-to-day practice of the occupation, and it exposes its ugly face."

'Technical mistake'

The Israeli military said the Palestinians were denied entry due to a "technical mistake". It said permits have now been issued, and it later issued a statement expressing "regret" for the incident.

But Ahmed Rizek, the Palestinian fire chief whose permit arrived too late for him to attend, said entry refusals for no apparent reason were routine for many Palestinians.

He said he and his staff were surprised to learn when they arrived at the checkpoint that not all of the men would be granted entry into Israel.

Palestinians are required to have permits to enter Israel from the West Bank, and many complain that Israeli approval or rejection can be arbitrary.

Houses destroyed

About 20 Palestinian firefighters joined the international effort to battle the fire that swept through the Carmel forest in northern Israel.

Dozens of nations had sent firefighting equipment and helped in the effort to put out the fire, which in addition to causing casualties, scorched 50 square kilometres of woodland, destroyed millions of trees, and an estimated dozens of homes.

Israel has admitted it was woefully underprepared, and politicians have called for officials to resign for failing to quickly quell the fire.

Two teenagers from the village of Isfiya have been arrested on suspicion of starting the blaze "through negligence" by leaving behind burning embers after a family picnic.

Source:
Agencies
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