Eight Israeli soldiers were killed and seven injured early today when a bunkhouse in an Army base in the occupied West Bank erupted in flames, the Army command said.
A Syrian-based Palestinian guerrilla group, the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, claimed responsibility for the blaze, saying it placed the incendiary charges. But the Israeli Army said tonight that while it is not ruling out the possibility of sabotage, initial investigation indicated that the fire started accidentally.
The Army said it is not unusual for Palestinian guerrilla organizations to claim responsibility for accidents at military bases.
The fire occurred at a small Army base adjacent to a Jewish settlement at Shiloh, midway between Jerusalem and Nablus, on the West Bank.
An Army spokesman said no explosion was heard before the fire was discovered in the 30-foot-long wood and aluminum structure. He said the victims were all in sleeping bags, and could have suffocated quickly before help arrived.
"We haven't pinpointed a cause, but it doesn't seem at this stage that this was sabotage," the spokesman said.
Army officials said that a portable generator connected to the bunkhouse was shut down at 11 p.m. Sunday, and that the soldiers may have used candles to light the building.
Of the seven injured soldiers, four remained hospitalized today, officials said.