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Children killed, dozens hurt in West Bank accident

Feb. 16, 2012 10:14 A.M. (Updated: Feb. 17, 2012 9:19 P.M.)
RAMALLAH (Ma'an) -- At least five Palestinian schoolchildren and a teacher were killed Thursday when their bus overturned and caught fire after a collision with a truck on a rain-slicked road in the occupied West Bank.

The children, most of them kindergarden-age pupils at Nour al-Huda primary school, were on a field trip from Shufat refugee camp in Jerusalem to a park near the West Bank city of Ramallah.

Palestinian police said the bus collided with a truck near Jaba, causing it to flip over.

A witness told Israel Radio he saw the truck swerve head on into the bus. "The fire started in the front ... and we helped the children from the back. I saw many of them die immediately," he said.

Dr Ahmad Bitawi, director of Ramallah Hospital in the West Bank, said five children and a teacher were pronounced dead at the facility, which also treated 54 people injured in the accident.

The Red Crescent said at least eight of the injured were in serious condition. They were treated at the Palestinian Medical Clinic as well as Jerusalem's Hadassah Hospital, medics said.

Police initially said 10 people were killed, but the health minister lowered that number to six late Thursday. Officials were still trying to identify some of the bodies late Thursday.

Both Palestinian and Israeli emergency services arrived at the scene of the accident, but commuters were the first to begin pulling people from the wreckage and putting out the fire.

Israeli and Palestinian emergency crews later cooperated in rescue efforts.

"Firefighters began to take bodies out of the bus. We saw there was nothing more to be done," said Shalom Galil, an Israeli paramedic at the scene.

Doron Yisraeli, head of the Israeli police traffic unit in the area, said it had been raining and the truck had braked and skidded into the bus on the road just north of Jerusalem.

"Human error, combined with the difficult conditions, led to lethal consequences," Yisraeli said.

Mourning

President Mahmoud Abbas announced three days of mourning for victims of the crash and ordered Palestinian flags to fly at half-mast.

"Authorities will take all necessary measures to take care of the injured and provide the families of victims all they need. We consider the victims martyrs of the Palestinian people," Abbas said.

Abbas sent his secretary Tayeb Abdul Rahim to meet with families of the victims. The minister of health and the prime minister in Ramallah, Salam Fayyad, are also speaking with relatives.

Israeli President Shimon Peres spoke to President Abbas and expressed sorrow over the accident, Israeli media reported. "Israel will provide the victims with any medical aid necessary," he was quoted as saying.

Abbas thanked Peres for his comments and stressed "this is a great tragedy for the Palestinian people," Israel's Ynet news service reported. It said Israel's prime minister was also offering assistance.

Filippo Grandi, the commissioner-general of UNRWA, the UN's Palestine refugee agency, said in a statement he was "deeply saddened" by the tragedy near Qalandia.

"There is nothing more appalling to us and our communities than the needless deaths and suffering of innocent children. My condolences go out to the families and friends of the victims at this terrible time."

Reuters contributed to this report.

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