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Israel denies Palestinian firefighters entrance to ceremony

Palestinian firefighters were denied entrance into Israel from the West Bank to attend an award ceremony honouring their efforts in fighting the worst fire in Israel's 62 year history

AFP, Tuesday 14 Dec 2010
Palestinian firefighters
Palestinian firefighters prepare to cross into Israel from the West Bank to help to extinguish the fire in northern Israel. On Tuesday, these very same fighters were denied entrance into Israel to attend a ceremony in their honour. (AP)

Israel on Tuesday barred five Palestinian firefighters who helped put out a massive forest fire from an award ceremony intended to honour them, officials said.

The firefighters, including the head of Palestinian civil defence unit Ahmed Rizik, were denied entry permits to Israel to attend the ceremony in the village of Isfiya, which was ravaged by the fire, said Loay Odeh, a spokesman for the Palestinian firefighters.

"We don't know why we were allowed in for four days to fight the fire and today are being prevented from entering," Odeh told AFP. "This is neither a logical nor a humanitarian act."

Seven others received permits, he said.

The military said the Palestinians were denied entry due to "a technical mistake" and permits have now been issued, and the army later released a statement expressing "regret" for the oversight.

Arab Israeli lawmaker Ahmed Tibi, who organised the award ceremony, slammed the military.

"This is crass example of the attitude of the occupation authorities to these Palestinian firefighters who risked themselves to save (Israeli) lives," Tibi told Israeli public radio.

The award ceremony was cancelled.

Rizik, who was barred from entering Israel on Wednesday, was one of some 300 international firefighters who were thanked at a ceremony hosted at the residence of President Shimon Peres after the fire.

Since the start of the second Intifada in September 2000, the West Bank has been subject to a security lockdown with most Palestinians barred from entering Israel. Those requesting an exception, usually for humanitarian reasons, must get special permits.

The Palestinian firefighters were one of more than 16 international teams that assisted Israel in putting out the worst fire in Israel's 62-year history.

The fire raged through the Carmel forest south of the Mediterranean city of Haifa for four days, killing 43 people, destroying millions of trees and hundreds of homes.

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