A propane tank at the entrance of a residential building in the old city of Acre exploded early Monday morning killing five people and hurting 12 others.
The victims were identified as couple Raik and Najah Sarhan, 65 and 51, and their son 8-year-old son Nasser, and Mohammed and Hanan Badar, 43 and 38. Nasser's 11-year-old sister survived.
Two of those injured in the blast are in serious condition, one is in moderate condition and the rest sustained light injuries. Among the injured are three children and a firefighter hurt during the rescue efforts. They were evacuated to hospitals in Nahariya and in Haifa.
Most of the three-story building near Acre's ancient port collapsed, trapping at least ten people under debris.
Emergency rescue crews, Home Front Command employees and members of the Israel Defense Forces' elite canine unit worked overnight at the scene and continued to search for survivors trapped beneath the debris on Monday morning.
Rescue workers have so far pulled out a baby, who was unhurt, and a family of four.
Foul play suspected
The explosion apparently resulted from the propane tanks catching fire, however police are also not ruling out foul play. Police suspect the incident may have been an attempt to harm cellular antennae located on the building's top floor.
Residents said the building's top floor was uninhabited and that their landlord rented the space to antennae operators. Some of them had also complained in the past that the antennae are carcinogenic, and said there were prior attempts to torch them.
Acre Mayor Shimon Lankri said the circumstances of the blast were being investigated.
As for the cellular antennae, he said there had been 36 "pirate" cellphone towers in the old city that were relocated outside of the city following a coordinated effort by residents, the municipality and cell companies.
"We did not know about this illegal antenna," said Lankri, adding that runs afoul of agreements with cellular firms.
Police said Magen David Adom rescuers are working under conditions of poor lighting in the narrow alleys of the old city of Acre.
"This is a complex challenge. The teams are working under difficult conditions," said Coastal District Commander Haggai Dotan. "There is a high density of homes and thousands of people in the alleyways, but we understand their concern."
"This disaster once again calls attention to the tragedy of residents of the old city, who live in dilapidated buildings," said MK Masud Ganaim (United Arab List-Ta’al) at the scene Monday.
Neighbors assisted with rescue efforts until the professional teams arrived.
"I stepped outside. The air was full of dust. I ran over to the building that collapsed. There were shouts and many residents began to help with the removing of debris. It's a complex and difficult job," said Yosef, a local resident.
"This is a very sad incident," he said. "People know one another around here. We pray for the well being of the residents."
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