Two French-Israelis among 4 dead in Netanya gas blast
Four people were killed, two of them French-Israelis, when a huge blast caused by a gas leak levelled a building in the Israeli coastal town of Netanya, police and relatives said on Friday.
Witnesses said the blast, which occurred late on Thursday and injured close to 70 people, could be heard three kilometres (over a mile) away, but police said it was caused by a gas canister and was not related to any criminal or nationalist issues.
The explosion flattened a four-storey building in the town centre which had a restaurant on the ground floor.
"The investigation into the blast shows it was not caused by an attack or through criminal gang-related activity," police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld told AFP, pointing to a faulty gas canister. "The explosion was apparently caused by negligence."
Three women and one man were killed in the explosion, and "close to 70 people were injured," he said.
Two of the victims were French-Israeli women in their early 20s, family members told AFP. They were to be buried later on Friday.
By the late afternoon, rescuers had completed their searches with police spokeswoman Luba Samri telling AFP there was "no-one left underneath the rubble."
Netanya is home to a large French-speaking community and draws a sizeable number of Jewish tourists from France every year. It is also known as a town where figures from the criminal underworld have been known to settle scores.
Officials at Netanya's Laniado hospital confirmed that "many French speakers" were among the injured, although they did not have a precise figure and it was unclear whether they were French tourists or Israelis with dual nationality.
Investigators are holding two suspects whose remand in custody was extended by a court in Petah Tikva on Friday afternoon.
One was a scrap metal dealer, while the other was an employee of the gas company which supplied the canisters, Rosenfeld said.
Investigators said the gas worker had come to examine the pipes around the building several hours before the explosion, following complaints from local residents but had found nothing amiss.
The blast flattened the entire building, leaving people buried under the rubble, and cranes were brought in to try to get them out, witnesses told Israeli radio.
At least one witness reported a strong smell of gas hanging over the debris.
© 2011 AFP