Gaza warns landfill fire could rage for days, appeals for help

GAZA (Reuters): Gaza officials called for help to extinguish a fire that started in a landfill in a village bordering Israel on Thursday, saying it could last for days and cause “an environmental catastrophe.”

A large cloud of heavy smoke billowed into the sky as night fell, and there was a strong smell of burning rubbish across Gaza City.

The fire started “in the eastern part of a landfill in Juhr Al-Deek, southeast of Gaza City, near the separation fence, for reasons that have yet to be confirmed,” the Gaza municipality said in a statement.

“We fear the fire might spread across the landfill and result in an environmental catastrophe.”

Local fire crews did not have the capacity to cope with the blaze, it added. The authority called on international organizations to help put out the blaze, and for international pressure on Israel to lift a blockade to let equipment in.

Citing security concerns, Israel has enforced a blockade of Gaza since the Islamist Hamas movement seized control of the densely-populated coastal enclave in 2007, restricting the movement of people and goods.

Palestinians say these restrictions, including on what Israel defines as “dual-use” items that could have a military purpose, have severely impeded their ability to respond to emergencies.

Last November, a fire broke out in a residential building in a refugee camp in the north of the strip, killing 21 members of a family and injuring several others.