Palestinian fire heroes denied entry

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The Independent Online

A ceremony to honour Palestinian firemen who helped to fight the worst brush fires in Israeli history was called off yesterday after the military failed to grant them entry permits in time.

The Palestinian Fire Services Commander Ahmed Rizik was reported as saying that when they arrived at a checkpoint they were told only seven out of the 10 West Bank firemen would be granted entry into Israel. The ceremony at the northern Israeli Druze village of Isfiya, close to the seat of the fire, would be postponed to a "later date", said Mr Rizik. The Palestinian Authority said the firemen had had no difficulty entering Israel when the woodland was actually ablaze.

An Israeli military spokesman said: "We regret the incident but it was a technical issue." He added that the Palestinian firemen had all now been granted permits and had previously attended similar ceremonies at the foreign ministry and the Israeli President's office. He said that the Israeli authorities were working closely and successfully with the Palestinian Authority and added: "It is important not to get this out of proportion."

Countries including Britain and, despite the crisis in its relations with Israel, Turkey, joined an international aid effort to help fight fires which killed more than 40 people.

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