PA Firemen Denied Permits to Attend Event in Own Honor

A ceremony to honor the Palestinian firefighters who helped extinguish the Carmel fire had to be canceled yesterday because some of them did not receive permits to enter Israel.

Ahmed Rizik, the head of the Palestinian fire crew, said that when he and his men reached the checkpoint into Israel yesterday morning, he was stunned to discover that entry permits were waiting for only seven of the 13 crew members - though none had been denied entry while the fire was raging. He said checkpoint officials told him the others were barred for security reasons.

"There's no logical reason for this, and I don't know what the motive is," said Rizik, noting that he himself was one of those denied entry.

The Israel Defense Forces said the lack of permits for the ceremony, which was to have taken place in Isfiya, was due to a bureaucratic error.

"The list of participants was sent without their identity numbers," which slowed down the process, it said, adding that ultimately, all the firefighters did receive permits.

The office of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories said it regretted the incident, but it "shouldn't be blown out of proportion."

"The delay in giving the permits occurred due to a technical error in coordination between the sides and in light of the fact that the application was submitted on short notice," COGAT said. "It must be remembered and stressed that the fire crews did attend other official ceremonies in recent days, at the President's Residence and the Foreign Ministry."

Rizik confirmed that he submitted the application only the evening before the ceremony.

That, however, is no explanation, the Palestinian Authority said in a statement. "It's not clear how permission existed for the firefighters to help extinguish the fire, yet permission was not given those same people to attend an event to honor them," the statement said. "We did this despite the occupation, because this is our humanitarian obligation. We knew the occupation would still be there the day after this assistance."