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Israel criticized for barring Palestinian firefighters

By the CNN Wire Staff
  • Four Palestinians helped fight nation's largest blaze this month
  • They were to be honored at a ceremony but were denied entry into Israel
  • Lawmaker says incident shows "the true face of the Israeli occupation"
  • Israeli government expresses regret but warns against "a fuss"

Jerusalem (CNN) -- Israel's refusal Tuesday to allow four Palestinian firefighters to cross the border from the West Bank to attend a ceremony for their role in putting out the country's largest-ever fire has prompted a torrent of criticism.

Ahmed Tibi, an Arab member of Israel's Knesset who helped organize the ceremony, said he was shocked when when he received a call from one of the firefighters, informing him that he and three others were being denied entry into Israel because of security concerns.

"The Palestinian firefighters did their humane duties in fighting a natural disaster, but this behavior shows the true face of the Israeli occupation," Tibi said.

The ceremony was to salute 11 Palestinian firefighters who were among the many foreigners volunteering to help Israelis put out the worst fire in the nation's history. The blaze killed 43 people this month.

The ceremony, which was being held in the northern town of Isifya, near where the fire began, was canceled in protest of Israel's decision.

The Israeli government office that oversees the crossings with the Palestinian territories issued a statement expressing "regret" over the incident but asked that "a fuss" not be made.

For its part, the Palestinian Authority government was quick to lambaste Israel in a statement, asking why "the same Palestinian firemen who where permitted to enter Israel last week to put the fire out are not permitted to enter today to be honored?"

It went on to say that "despite the occupation, our participation in putting out the fire was a humane duty, and we did not think the occupation would have ended the day after."