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Israeli forces spark devastating fire at Ramallah vegetable market

Over 100 stalls and shops are destroyed by the fire during a dawn raid, where live ammunition and stun grenades were used
Palestinians check damage in the central vegetables market after an Israeli raid in Ramallah in the occupied West Bank 30 May 2024 (MEE/Majd Abu Rayya)
Palestinians check damage in Ramallah's central vegetable market in the occupied West Bank after an Israeli raid, 30 May 2024 (MEE/Majd Abu Rayya)
By Fayha Shalash in Ramallah, occupied Palestine and Katherine Hearst

Israeli forces ignited a devastating fire at Ramallah and al-Bireh's main vegetable market in the occupied West Bank on Thursday that has destroyed dozens of shops owned by Palestinians and caused millions of shekels in losses.

Troops raided the neighbouring West Bank cities at dawn, firing live ammunition, stun grenades and tear gas in residential areas and the local market, known locally as al-Hisbah. 

Wooden carts caught on fire and the flames spread throughout the market and to nearby commercial buildings, wounding at least one person and ravaging over 100 stalls and shops, according to al-Bireh's acting mayor, Robin al-Khatib.

Initial losses from the devastation are estimated at tens of millions of shekels, al-Khatib told local media.

Musa Murbou, the owner of the ground floor at the al-Maliki Commercial Complex, which was destroyed by the fire, said his losses alone are no less than 2.5 million shekels ($671,700). 

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"The floor contained hundreds of commercial stands for clothes, toys and shoes, all of which were close to each other, making it easier for the fire to spread through,” he told Middle East Eye.

According to Murbou, the fire destroyed the ground, first and second floors of the complex, which is adjacent to the vegetable market. 

'My work for many years has disappeared in moments'

- Musa Murbou, business owner 

"I don't know what to do. Everything is like a nightmare and I can't believe what happened. My work for many years has disappeared in moments."

At least 34 vendors were impact by the fire at the Maliki complex and hundreds more at the vegetable market.

Muhannad Adwa, owner of a clothing and shoe store, said his losses were up to 350,000 shekels ($94,000).

The store supported his family of six and his brother's family of seven, and he has worked there there for 17 years.

"We had prepared and bought Eid goods and hadn’t arranged them yet, but the fire destroyed everything," he said, referring to upcoming Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha.

When Adwa heard about the fire, he and his brother tried to reach the area, but were blocked by Israeli forces, who prevented anyone from approaching.

"When we finally made it, the fire was huge and had consuming everything. We couldn’t stand in front of it, we just stood helpless."

According to al-Khatib, Israeli forces prevented firefighters from accessing the market for nearly an hour, which allowed the fire to spread.

Firefighters were still trying to extinguish the fire on the ground floor in the afternoon, Murbou said. 

Majd Abu Rayya, an MEE contributor, said smoke was still coming out of the burnt mall building around the market hours after the fire engulfed the place.

"The closer you get the stronger the stench of burnt vegetables and food becomes," he said. 

"Everyone around the area is completely numb, and the most common sentence used to describe the scene was, 'this is bad, but it is nothing compared to what is going on in Gaza, may God protect them and Alhamdullilah (thank God) for everything.'"

Firefighters worked for hours extinguish the fire (MEE/Majd Abu Rayya)
Firefighters worked for hours to extinguish the fire (MEE/Majd Abu Rayya)

An Al Jazeera correspondent on the scene reported that for many of the vendors at the market, their stalls are their only source of income.

The assault came as part of a wave of dawn raids by Israeli forces across the occupied West Bank, who also stormed currency exchange offices, confiscating equipment and arresting several workers.

Israeli forces have repeatedly raided money exchange shops in the West Bank since 7 October.

On 11 May, the army stormed 11 branches of the same company, seizing over $1m. 

In December, several exchange companies lost around $300,000 in similar raids.

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