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