A fire that broke out on Thursday evening in the northern Gaza Strip killed at least 21 people, the territory’s Hamas rulers said, in one of the deadliest incidents in recent years outside the violence stemming from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. 

The blaze erupted on the third floor of a three-story building in the crowded Jabaliya refugee camp, according to the Palestinian militant group Hamas. 

The Civil Defense in Gaza, which is run by Hamas, linked the fire to gasoline that was being stored in the building. It was not immediately clear how the gasoline ignited. Officials said an investigation was underway. 

Flames were seen spewing out of the windows of the burning floor as hundreds of people gathered outside on the street, waiting for firetrucks and ambulances. 

Gaza, ruled by Hamas and under a crippling Israeli-Egyptian blockade, faces a severe energy crisis. People often store cooking gas, diesel and gasoline in homes in preparation for winter. House fires have previously been caused by candles and gas leaks. 

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas offered condolences to the families of the dead and declared Friday a day of mourning. 

Hussein Al-Sheikh, a senior Palestinian Authority official, called on Israel to open its border crossing with Gaza to allow for the evacuation of those injured who need advanced medical care to Palestinian hospitals in the West Bank and Jerusalem. 

COGAT, the Israeli body controlling the Erez Crossing with the Gaza Strip, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

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