US 'gravely concerned' over reported Israeli strikes on UN facility in Gaza

Israel 'retains a responsibility to protect civilians, including humanitarian personnel and sites', National Security Council spokeswoman says

Palestinians try to extinguish a fire at an UNRWA vocational training centre in Gaza that is currently housing hundreds of displaced people. AP
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The UN reported on Wednesday that nine people were killed in the shelling of one of its shelters in Gaza, with the White House saying that it was “gravely concerned” over the incident.

The world body criticised Israel's “blatant disregard” for the rules of war while the US “deplored” the attack at the facility in southern Gaza's biggest city that is sheltering about 800 people.

“We are gravely concerned by reports today of strikes hitting a UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) facility – with subsequent reports of fires in the building – in a neighbourhood in southern Gaza where more than 30,000 displaced Palestinians had reportedly been sheltering,” National Security Council spokeswoman Adrienne Watson said in a statement.

She said the US was looking into the incident.

“The United States is unwavering in our support for Israel’s right to defend itself, consistent with international humanitarian law, against Hamas terrorists who hide among the civilian population and want to annihilate the state of Israel,” Ms Watson said.

“But Israel retains a responsibility to protect civilians, including humanitarian personnel and sites.”

The shelling occurred as fighting intensified in Khan Younis, the latest focus of Israel's war against Hamas in the enclave.

“We deplore today's attack on the UN's Khan Younis training centre,” US State Department spokesman Vedant Patel told reporters at a briefing.

“Civilians must be protected, and the protected nature of UN facilities must be respected, and humanitarian workers must be protected so that they can continue providing civilians with the life-saving humanitarian assistance that they need.”

The Israeli army has reportedly encircled Khan Younis, the birthplace of Hamas chief Yahya Sinwar, accused of being the mastermind of the October 7 attacks that sparked the war.

Footage released by the Israeli military showed soldiers engaged in urban combat in the city amid ruined buildings.

The UN shelter was hit by two tank rounds that killed nine and injured 75, said Thomas White, the Gaza head of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees.

UNRWA head Philippe Lazzarini condemned the attack and said the number of dead was likely to rise.

“Once again a blatant disregard of basic rules of war,” Mr Lazzarini said on X, formerly Twitter. He added that the compound had been clearly marked as a UN facility and its co-ordinates had been shared with Israeli authorities.

When asked about the incident, the Israeli army told AFP “a thorough review of the operations of the forces in the vicinity is under way” and that it was examining the possibility that the strike was a “result of Hamas fire”.

Updated: January 25, 2024, 6:29 AM