Blinken says civilians in Gaza must be protected after deadly strike on UN shelter

UN says two tank shells hit agency facility that was sheltering civilians

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken holds a press conference at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Luanda, Angola. AFP
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US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Thursday called on Israel to do more to protect civilians following a deadly strike on a UN shelter in Gaza that killed at least a dozen people.

Speaking to reporters in Luanda, the Angolan capital, Mr Blinken praised the UN's “life-saving” work in Gaza, where UNRWA, the world body's agency for Palestinian refugees, is providing food and shelter for civilians amid the ongoing conflict.

On Wednesday, a strike on a crowded UNRWA shelter killed 12 people and wounded about 75 others, said Thomas White, a senior official with the agency.

The White House said it was “gravely concerned” by the strike but reiterated its “unwavering” support for Israel's right to self-defence.

Mr Blinken told reporters that the UN shelter “is essential and it has to be protected”.

“We have reaffirmed this with the government of Israel and it is my understanding that they are, as is necessary and appropriate, looking into this incident,” Mr Blinken said.

According to the UN, two tank shells struck the shelter, located in Gaza's main southern city of Khan Younis.

The Israeli military is the only force known to have tanks operating in the Gaza Strip. It said it has “currently ruled out” that the strike was carried out by its aircraft or artillery but was still investigating, adding that the building might have been hit by a Hamas rocket.

On a trip focused on West Africa, Mr Blinken has been frequently asked to comment on the situation in Gaza, with the issue coming up at several stops on a packed tour that has included Cape Verde, Ivory Coast, Nigeria and Angola.

The National accompanied Mr Blinken on the tour, aimed at promoting US investments and support as Washington looks to counter Chinese and Russian influence in Africa. But the war in Gaza remained present.

“The suffering of citizens in Gaza, men, women and children remains heartbreaking,” Mr Blinken said in Luanda, noting that it was Israel’s responsibility to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure.

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Updated: January 25, 2024, 3:51 PM