B'Tselem Office Fire Likely Caused by Electrical Failure, Fire Department Says

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A forensic team outside the offices of the human rights organization B'Tselem in Jerusalem, January 11, 2016.
A forensic team outside the offices of the human rights organization B'Tselem in Jerusalem, January 11, 2016.Credit: Nir Hasson

The fire at the Jerusalem office of the human rights group B'Tselem was caused by an electrical failure, according to an initial report by the Israel Fire and Rescue Services.

The investigators assigned to the fire were “looking into the very likely possibility that the fire was started by an electrical failure in the office electrical system,” a department spokesman said, but added that the investigation was ongoing, and stressed that it was still in its preliminary stages.

The fire broke out on Sunday evening at around 10 P.M. in a building that houses the office of B'Tselem, in Jerusalem's Makor Haim neighborhood. There were two centers of combustion, both on the first floor where B'Tselem's offices are housed. The fire was contained an hour later, at around 11:00 P.M.

B'Tselem's office after the fire, January 10, 2016. Credit: Fire and Rescue Services

The fire department had initially suspected that arson was the cause of the fire.

An Israel Antiquities Authority worker who was on the first floor of the building when the fire broke out called the fire department and told them that he did suspect anyone else was in the building at the time.

Most of the damage was done to the offices of B'Tselem and substantial damage was also done to the IAA offices, both on the first floor. The fire penetrated through the doors of the B'Tselem office and caused much damage to the computers inside. The group said, however, that most of the data they gather is kept on servers off site.

The Israel Airports Authority's offices are also on the building's first floor, as are the offices of "Hand in Hand," the organization behind the bilingual school targeted in a November 2014 arson attack. Two Jewish extremists affiliated with the radical right Lehava group were convicted over the crime and sentenced to 30 and 24 months in prison, respectively.

“Following the fire department’s announcement reported in the media that the cause of the fire in our offices was apparantly a electrical short circuit, we are breathing a sigh of relief, and turning to the task of cleaning our office and returning it to activity as soon as possible,” B’Tselem said in a statment.

“In recent hours we expiriences wonderful and moving expressions of support and solidarity from friends and supporters in Israel and abroad. We thank everyone and long to return to work until the occupation is over," the statement added.

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