Gaza fire killed 21 people from same family during birthday party

The 21 people killed in a fire during a birthday party at a residential building in a refugee camp in the Gaza Strip were members of the same family.

Thousands of mourners joined a funeral procession as they carried the shrouded bodies, including at least eight children, through the streets of Gaza.

Those killed in last night's blaze in the four-storey building in the Jabaliya refugee camp were members of the Abu Raya family.

Their bodies were wrapped in Palestinian flags and taken into a mosque for prayers, before being buried at the Cemetery of Martyrs east of the refugee camp in a military funeral.

Officials in Hamas-run Gaza said an initial investigation revealed large amounts of petrol had been stored at the site and apparently fuelled the blaze. The Interior Ministry said it was not clear how the petrol ignited.

The fire tore through the top-floor apartment of the building, which was home to the Abu Raya family.

Mohammed Abu Raya, a family spokesperson, told the Associated Press the extended family had gathered for joint celebrations - the birthday of one of the children and the return of one of the adults from a trip to Egypt.

'No one came out alive'

Mr Abu Raya challenged assertions that stored petrol fuelled the blaze. He said 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 who died in the fire were from three generations: a couple, their five sons and one daughter, two daughters-in-law and 11 grandchildren, according to Mr Abu Raya and Mohammed Jadallah, who had married into the family.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said it was a national tragedy and declared a day of mourning.

Jabalia is one of eight refugee camps in Gaza, which is home to 2.3 million people and one of the world's most densely populated areas.

Gaza faces a crippling energy crisis under the pressure of an Israeli-Egyptian blockade.

People regularly store petrol and cooking gas in their homes in preparation for winter, and house fires have previously been sparked by candles and gas leaks.