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An explosion atop a five-story building in Acre’s Old City on Monday collapsed three floors, leaving five dead and 12 injured.
According to Old City residents with whom The Jerusalem Post spoke on Monday, the explosion that shook their neighborhood at around 2 a.m. Monday was caused by an act of sabotage meant to take out a cellular antenna the owner of the building had placed on the roof, against the pleas of the residents.
The residents said that people had tried to torch and tear down the antenna on a number of occasions, after a number of local children had become sick with cancer in recent years.
Other residents said it was too early to say what happened, and expressed fear that rumors and speculation would lead to violence and revenge.
Shortly after the blast, the Coastal District police opened an investigation to determine what caused the explosion.
Touring the site, Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch said “the circumstances of the blast are being examined and there are a number of different angles we are checking, including the criminal angle, [or] that this was caused by exploding gas canisters or even issues with the weather.”
By mid-afternoon, as the shop owners in the market shut their doors early, in an act of mourning, the victims were named as Muhammad Bader, 43, and his wife, Hanan, 38; Najah Sarhan, 51, and her husband, Riak, 55, as well as their son Nasser, 8. At the time, two of the 12 wounded remained in serious condition at Western Galilee Hospital in Nahariya.
“What happened is, someone had enough and took the law into his own hands,” said Abed, the owner of a café near the entrance to the Old City, adding that the prevailing belief among his friends was that someone climbed on the roof and placed a bomb next to the antenna.
“For over 10 years people complained about the antenna, and no one did anything,” Abed said, adding that he’d heard that the person who placed the supposed bomb was among the injured.
Magen David Adom on Monday described a rescue operation that sent paramedics racing on foot through the alleyways, holding whatever they could carry from the ambulances to the blast site. At the scene, which they described as resembling an earthquake, they worked alongside soldiers from the IDF Home Front Command and the “Oketz” canine unit, officers from the Israel Police and the Border Patrol and municipality officials.
The antenna sat atop the building after the Acre municipality got rid of most of the pirate cellular antennas in the Old City in recent years.
The antennas were put up, residents say, to deal with the spotty reception in the serpentine alleyways of the ancient city, with building owners receiving payment from cellular companies to put up the rooftop antennas.
Throughout the neighborhood on Monday, people spoke of a blast that shook their houses and sent debris flying in all directions. The five-story building – which locals said was the highest in the Old City – was a shell of itself on Monday afternoon.
The top three floors were gone, having collapsed into the center of the building, leaving a mound of dust and rubble.
Family photos peeked out of the dirt. A painting of the Qabba in Mecca hung steadfast to a now-barren wall. A wooden dresser stood intact against the wall, just below a refrigerator perched on the last remaining piece of floor from the apartment above.
In the street below, a contingent of Border Patrol officers and Special Patrol Unit police secured the perimeter, as stunned residents pointed at the building, gossiping about what caused the blast and taking pictures with their cellphones.
On the edges of the crowd, a group of young women sobbed into tissues and prayed before leaving.
Standing atop an adjacent roof, one resident pointed at the top floor of the building, where the cellular antenna lay bent and hanging over the abyss. He pointed at the collapsed floors and speculated that the blast had sent the top floor crashing down, pancaking the next two floors below.
Looking at the building, it appeared that the older parts – the stone arches and original stone walls – mostly remained in place, with the new construction on top blown asunder.
By late afternoon, the shuk and most of the Old City was quiet.
Residents prepared for a funeral procession set for that evening, as soon as the bodies of the victims could be returned from the Abu Kabir Forensic Institute.
At the famous al-Jazzar mosque not far away, dozens of men milled around in the plaza, where food in large pots on hot plates provided by the Islamic Waqf was being served to relatives of the killed and well-wishers. Among the mourners was Osama Gazawe, a former deputy mayor of Acre, whose cousin Najah was killed in the blast.
“We’ve never had a disaster like this in Acre. It’s a blow to the entire city,” Gazawe said, adding that Jews, Christians and Druze as well as Muslims had come by the mosque to pay their respects.
He said he’d heard about the allegations of sabotage, but brushed them off.
“I’m asking people to just wait and let the police do their job. Rumors can get out of control and turn to violence,” he said.
In the meantime, he said: “Even if you’re broken up inside, you have to try to be strong on the outside, for everyone else.”
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