Mourners pray for a Palestinian family that died in a fire in their apartment building in the Jabaliya refugee camp, northern Gaza Strip, on Nov. 18, 2022. Image Credit: AP

JABALIA, Palestinian Territories: Thousands of Palestinians turned out on Friday for the funeral of 21 people who died in a Gaza Strip apartment building fire, an AFP correspondent said.

The victims, members of the same family, were celebrating a birthday party, two of their relatives said Friday.

Mohammed Abu Raya, a family spokesman, told The Associated Press that the extended family had gathered for twin celebrations — the birthday of one of the children and the return of one of the adults from a trip to Egypt.

Abu Raya spoke at the Indonesian Hospital in northern Gaza, where the bodies had been taken and where sobbing relatives were waiting for funeral processions to begin.

Abu Raya challenged assertions that stored gasoline fuelled the blaze, saying furniture made from flammable materials was more likely to have accelerated the flames.

“The disaster was that no one came out alive to tell us the truth of things,” he said. “I do not think that it was stored gasoline.”

Those killed were from three generations — a couple, their five sons and one daughter, two daughters-in-law and 11 grandchildren, according to Abu Raya and Mohammed Jadallah who had married into the Abu Raya family.

Mourners carried the coffins, draped in Palestinian flags, through crowds in the camp toward Beit Lahia cemetery for burial.

While the cause of the fire remained unknown, a spokesman for the civil defence unit told AFP that supplies of fuel were stored in the three-storey building.

Jabalia is a refugee camp, but like many such Palestinians camps now includes large buildings and in many respects resembles a city.

With electricity supply sparse in the impoverished territory, domestic blazes are common, as Gazans seek alternative sources for cooking and light, including kerosene lamps.

Gaza, densely populated with 2.3 million people, has been under Israeli blockade since 2007 when the Islamist movement Hamas took power.

Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz tweeted that his staff would assist with “humanitarian evacuations of the injured to (Israeli) hospitals”.

He expressed sympathy for the “serious disaster” in Gaza.

It was not immediately clear, however, if any of the roughly 15 people injured in the fire were transported out of Gaza.

Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas, based in the West Bank considered the fire “a national tragedy”, his spokesman said.

In May last year a war between Hamas militants and Israel killed 260 in the territory, Gaza authorities said, and left 13 people dead in Israel, the police and army there said.

Israel and another Iran-backed militant group, Islamic Jihad, fought a three-day conflict in Gaza in August this year.