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Saudi Hospital Fire Kills 24, Sparking Accusations

Saudi officials inspect damage inside the Jazan General Hospital after a blaze broke out in the intensive care unit and maternity department, Dec. 24, 2015, in Saudi Arabia's southern Jizan province.

Accusations flew over who was to blame for the deaths of at least 24 people in a Saudi hospital fire, with one official saying a crowd had obstructed rescue workers and some Twitter users blaming lax safety standards.

The Thursday blaze tore through the intensive care unit and maternity ward at the general hospital in the southwestern port city of Jazan, capital of the Jizan region, one of Saudi Arabia's poorest areas.

The country's deputy health minister was quoted by Al Sharq Al Awsat newspaper on Friday as saying 141 people had been injured in the fire – the latest in a series of accidents that have killed hundreds of people at Saudi public facilities.

Saad al-Muqrin, Jazan’s deputy governor, appeared to place some blame for the deaths at the hospital on people who rushed to the scene to help, according to remarks reported in Al Sharq Al Awsat.

"Unfortunately, there was a large mob and some citizens rushed to enter the hospital in a desire to help,” he was quoted as saying, "but actually they obstructed the evacuation and relief process by civil defense and health affairs, and 50 of them were injured in the incident and they occupied rescuers and officials and practitioners in aiding them."

Some Twitter users accused the hospital of lax safety standards, after a reporter for al-Arabiya television said he had seen several emergency doors locked with chains when he visited the hospital after the disaster.

"Punishment for who was responsible for closing the emergency exits," said one Twitter user.

"The disaster at Jazan General Hospital is the result of great negligence and the health ministry and health minister specifically and the hospital administration, interior ministry and civil defense are all responsible before God," said another.

Latest in series of disasters

The region's director of health affairs, Ahmed al-Sahli, denied there were any safety problems at the hospital. Health Minister Khalid al-Falih said he recognized the ministry had failed, but added that it was too early to ascertain the disaster’s causes and that a committee would investigate.

A deadly crush at the haj in Mecca in September killed 769 people, according to Saudi officials. Reuters calculations based on numbers provided by the pilgrims' home countries showed the death toll was at least 2,070.

Two weeks earlier, 110 people died in Mecca's Grand Mosque when a crane working on an expansion project collapsed during a storm, crushing pilgrims below.