'Technical Error Prevented Palestinian Firefighters From Entering Israel for Ceremony'

Ten Palestinian firefighters had come to Israel's aid to fight the Carmel fire but three were not given entry permits to attend a ceremony honoring them.

The department for coordinating government activities in the territories expressed their regret for refusing entry to Palestinian firefighters who had helped fight the massive Carmel forest fire, blaming it on a 'technical error.'

In a public statement, the department requested that the incident not spiral into a scandal or "be blown out of proportion."

fire - David Bachar - December 9 2010
David Bachar

Israeli officials on Tuesday canceled a ceremony planned to honor the Palestinian firemen who assisted in battling the Carmel fire last week, after a number of crew members were refused permits to cross the border.

Palestinian Fire Services Commander Ahmed Rizik said that he and his staff were surprised to learn when they arrived at the checkpoint that only seven out of the ten firemen would be granted entry into Israel, although all of them had been allowed in at the time of the disaster.

The Israeli government statement read, "The delay in granting the permits occurred due to a technical error in the coordination between the two sides and in light of the fact that the request was submitted under time constraints."

"It is important to note that the firefighting teams have attended formal ceremonies at the home of the president and at the foreign ministry in the last few days," they continued, adding, "The civil and defense cooperation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority will continue its operation."

Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad had called President Shimon Peres less than a day after the fire began to offer the aid of Palestinian firefighting teams.

The fire in which 43 Israelis were killed, ravaging forests outside the port of Haifa, caught Israel without enough firefighting equipment, and forced Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to seek foreign help from about a dozen countries.