Saudi Arabia hospital fire kills 31, injures over 100

The blaze broke out in the early hours of Thursday around the Saudi hospital's intensive care, maternity, and neonatal care wards. All babies in incubators were rescued, the health ministry said.

Saudi Civil Defense via AP
This image released by the Saudi Civil Defense hows firefighters responding to a fire at a hospital in Jizan, Saudi Arabia, Thursday, Dec. 24, 2015. The cause of the blaze, which broke out in the early hours of Thursday around the hospital's intensive care, maternity, and neonatal care wards, remains unknown, Saudi Civil Defense spokesman Maj. Yahya bin Abdullah al-Qahtani said.

A fire that broke out overnight at a hospital in a southwestern province of Saudi Arabia killed at least 31 people and injured over 100, the Saudi government said Thursday.

The blaze broke out in the early hours of Thursday around the hospital's intensive care, maternity and neonatal care wards in the port city of Jizan in the province by the same name. The cause remained unknown by Thursday afternoon, said Saudi Civil Defense spokesman Maj. Yahya bin Abdullah al-Qahtani.

There was no immediate breakdown of the victims or further details available.

Later in the day, the kingdom's health ministry put the death toll at 25, saying 123 people were injured. The discrepancy could not immediately be reconciled but it is not unusual in the aftermath of large disasters. The health ministry said in a statement those injured were transferred to hospitals nearby, and that an investigation is underway to find out the causes of the fire.

All babies in incubators were rescued, the health ministry said.

The kingdom has suffered a number of large-scale accidents this year, including a crane collapse in Mecca that killed 111 and a stampede that killed at least 2,411 during the hajj pilgrimage in September, according to an Associated Press count.

The AP figure of the hajj disaster death toll, which is three times higher than the number of deaths acknowledged by the kingdom, establishes the Sept. 24 stampede at Mina as the deadliest incident in the history of the annual pilgrimage. It is based on state media reports and officials' comments from 36 of the over 180 countries that sent citizens to the hajj. Hundreds of people remain missing.

The kingdom has also been struggling with multiple pressures, most prominently low oil prices that are straining its budget. It is also dealing with a war in neighboring Yemen, where Saudi Arabia is leading a coalition of mostly Arab, U.S.-backed nations carrying out an airstrikes campaign and offensive against the Yemeni Shiite rebels' power grab.

In Syria, Saudi supports the Western-backed Sunni rebels fighting against President Bashar Assad's government.

On Wednesday, King Salman outlined his domestic and foreign policies in a speech before the advisory Shura Council, pledging that security and economic development would remain the country's top priorities for the coming year even as low oil prices keep decreasing the kingdom's revenue.

Notably absent from his speech was any reference to the hajj disaster.


Youssef reported from Cairo. Associated Press writer Maram Mazen in Cairo contributed to this report.

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