Three children burn to death as candles replace lights in besieged Gaza

Man displays worn portrait photograph of three small children killed in fire

A photograph of the Bashir children who perished in a fire.

Ashraf Amra APA images

Gaza’s fuel shortages have led to three horrific deaths. Farah, Nadine and Sabri lost their young lives during a fire caused by a candle in their bedroom on 1 April.

“I wish I was burned along with them, I wish I was with them in heaven now,” said Nehad Bashir, mother of Nadine, a six-year-old girl, Farah, a five-year-old girl, and Sabri, a four-year-old boy.

Nehad had to light a candle in her children’s room in Deir al-Balah, as central Gaza was going through a power cut brought about by a two-months-long fuel crisis.

“We never used candles before”

“On Sunday afternoon, I brought Nadine back from the school and both Farah and Sabri joined me. I was told that Nadine had a little electric shock at the school, so I wanted to bring her back home,” said the grieving mother.

Bashir said that she never used candles before then but had no choice that evening as their electricity would not work.

“They were little kids and they feared the darkness, so I had to keep some light inside their room. On Sunday evening, after I played music on the tape recorder and they danced cheerfully in front of me, I put them all in their room to have some sleep and I also wanted to sleep after a long day. Two hours later I woke up with screaming inside my home.”

“Sabri, my youngest and only son, used to fill our lives with laughter. He used to fight with his elder sisters often, imitating the famous American wrestler John Cena. He used to hold a plastic stick, with which he played with his sisters while wrestling them,” the children’s father, Raed Bashir, said.

Only a few fragments of clothes remained inside a partially-burned cupboard in the children’s bedroom. Raed, a taxi driver, was working when the fire began.

“A few hours earlier, I discovered that the electric lights I have weren’t working, so I brought candles for the first time ever to light my home as I was heading to work. I didn’t know that this candlelight would have caused the death of my dear children,” Raed said.

Raed spoke about how he had been married for 17 years before his first child was born.

“I married two wives before marrying the mother of Farah, Nadine and Sabri. One of them died; I got divorced from the other one and neither of them delivered children. Believe me, my brother, I cannot describe my feelings at this moment,” he said.

“They called me Uncle”

Raed Bashir stands in his children’s burned bedroom. 

Rami Almeghari The Electronic Intifada

“I still cannot believe that three innocent children died this way,” Abu Khader Bashir, Raed’s cousin, said. “They were such cute and polite kids, may they rest in peace.”

Samir Shahin, a grocer in the Hikr neighborhood, recalled: “Every day they come over to my grocery store to buy some cookies or chocolates. They used to be so cheerful. They called me ‘Uncle,’ something I very rarely hear from other kids in the neighborhood.”

Raed’s nephew, Alaa Bashir, traced the events on that day.

“It was about 8:05 in the evening when we were informed by neighbors and passersby that there was a big fire inside the second story of the building, where my uncle’s apartment is located,” he said.

“Because of the buzzing of our power generator and that of the neighbors, we were unable to recognize what happened until we got upstairs and found a fire inside the children’s room. We called the fire brigade but it was late, so we stormed the room and wrapped the children up with blankets. There was lots of smoke inside. The children suffocated and were burned.”

The children’s mother and her baby, Reem, were evacuated from the apartment through a balcony.

The entire apartment now is full of black spots on the walls.

Israel’s stranglehold

On the day of the fire, Gaza’s 1.6 million residents experienced severe power cuts. The fuel crisis broke out almost two months earlier. Last Wednesday, Gaza’s main power plant resumed operation after a sufficient quantity of industrial fuel was pumped into the plant.

Hamas, the ruling party in Gaza, has since then demanded that fuel for the power plant be sent through the Rafah crossing between Egypt and Gaza. Yet Egypt refused and instead offered to send fuel through Israeli-controlled crossings, in coordination with the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank.

Eventually, Hamas and PA officials agreed in Cairo to transport the fuel through Israeli-controlled crossings. The partial resolution of the fuel crisis occurred after Hamas agreed to pay the PA directly for Israeli-supplied fuel.

Hamas had wanted to break the Israeli stranglehold over fuel supplies and Israel’s blockade of Gaza, in place for more than five years now.

But this is too little, too late for the Bashir family.

“I just pray to God that my children will be the last victims of this situation,” Raed Bashir said.

Rami Almeghari is a journalist and university lecturer based in the Gaza Strip.