Palestinian political factions have traded accusations of blame over three siblings who were burned alive after their home was set ablaze by candles the family was using due to the ongoing electricity crisis in the besieged Gaza Strip.
Officials in the Gaza-based Hamas movement and the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority have traded barbs over the deaths, with each accusing the other of bearing the responsibility.
More than 600 Palestinians came out on Saturday for the funeral of the three children, whose home was engulfed in flames a day earlier in the al-Shati refugee camp in the north of the coastal enclave.
With leaders of the Hamas political organisation and local armed factions in attendance, the mourners decried the deaths of Rahaf, Yousra and Nasser al-Hendi, who were between one and four years old.
Mohammed al-Hendi, 30, their father, recalled his last day with his children.
“We were at the beach and came home to find there was no electricity again,” he told Al Jazeera at the funeral. “They were sleeping, and I went out to bring dinner. When I came home, they told me my children were burned alive.”
Dozens of relatives and neighbours came to the Hendi family’s charred home in al-Shati after the funeral to express their condolences.
Standing in the blackened remains of the half-collapsed home, their grandmother Umm Fadi sobbed heavily as she recollected the last time she saw the children at her home a day before they died.
“They were so happy because we bought them clothes for Ramadan, and I cooked for them,” she told Al Jazeera.
“Then they were burned to death in those clothes.”
With the assistance of Egypt, Israel has imposed a tight siege on Gaza since Hamas took control of the region in 2007. The blockade severely restricts residents’ access to electricity, fuel, medicine, food and humanitarian goods.
Since late 2009, Israel has launched three major military offensives in Gaza, leaving much of the region in ruins.
“The whole world is aware of the suffering of Gaza. The Palestinian Authority is the one who is responsible for this,” said Hamas member Ehab al-Badrasawi in an interview with Al Jazeera at the Hendi family home.
Many Gaza residents blame the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority for the Blue Tax, a tariff which significantly increased the price of fuel that makes operations possible for Gaza’s sole power plant. In April, the authority announced a summer-long exemption from the tax.
Despite grants from the Qatari government, internal Palestinian political divisions and Israel’s ongoing siege of the strip have rendered any solution to the electricity crisis unlikely.
In March, PA President Mahmoud Abbas spiked a proposal to build additional electricity lines to support Gaza, where power cuts have extend to 18 to 20 hours a day in some districts.
Alluding to Israeli air strikes in Gaza in recent days, Hamas senior political leader Ismail Haniyeh said on Saturday that the PA is complicit in the electricity crisis due to the latter’s cooperation with Israel.
“The enemy’s planes burn the land and the homes, and the crippling siege and its accomplices burn our children … and the lights of our future,” Haniyeh said.
“Who has been taking $70m a month in taxes from Gaza? Who has been collecting fuel taxes? Who refused to enlarge the power supply from Egypt to the Gaza Strip and refused to build a pipeline to provide Gaza’s power station with gas to increase its capacity?”
President Abbas telephoned the grieving family on Saturday to express his condolences, and the PA has offered to rebuild the Hendi family’s home, according to local media reports.
In a statement released on Saturday, PA spokesman Yousef Mahmoud decried Hamas for “false accusations”, insisting that the deaths were “a tragedy for the whole Palestinian people”.
The PA’s press office did not respond to Al Jazeera’s requests to comment further.
‘Rage and anger’
Talal Abu Zareefa, a representative of the leftist Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine’s political bureau, called on the international community to press Israel to end its siege of the strip and demanded that Palestinian factions unite to solve Gaza’s many humanitarian crises.
“The world should apply the necessary pressure on the Israeli occupation to lift the siege of Gaza and let the Palestinian people live like any other nation in the world,” he told Al Jazeera at the Hendi home.
Mukhaimer Abu Saada, a political analyst and professor at Gaza’s Al Azhar University, explained that the tragic incident highlights the ongoing political divides between Hamas and the PA, but it is “not a new type of incident” in Gaza.
“The mood among Palestinians in Gaza is rage and anger at both the Hamas movement and the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah,” he told Al Jazeera.
“But Palestinians are also very angry at Hamas because they have been here nine years without being able to alleviate the suffering of Palestinians here in their daily lives,” Abu Saada said.
“The house is being rebuilt, but there is no solution for the two million Palestinians in Gaza in the foreseeable future.”
Back in al-Shati, grieving father Mohammed al-Hendi said: “The world should come to Gaza and see how we are living. Look at what is happening to the people of Gaza; see our situation here.”
Ezz Zanoun reported from the Gaza Strip: @EzzPress
Follow Patrick Strickland on Twitter: @P_Strickland_