Israeli attack on UN refuge in Gaza prompts rare rebuke from Washington

January 25, 2024 7:30 am

[Source: Reuters]

Israeli tanks struck a huge U.N. compound sheltering displaced Palestinians on Wednesday, causing “mass casualties”, the United Nations said, as Israeli forces battled their way into crowded parts of Gaza without letting people out first.

The attack, which the U.N. said hit a vocational training compound housing 30,000 displaced people in Khan Younis, southern Gaza’s main city, prompted rare outright condemnation from the United States of an apparent Israeli military action.

Thomas White, director of Gaza affairs for the U.N. agency UNRWA, said at least nine people were killed and 75 wounded in a building housing 800. The agency’s head Philippe Lazzarini, reposting that statement, said the death toll was probably higher.

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In Washington, U.S. State Department spokesperson Vedant Patel said: “We deplore today’s attack on the U.N.’s Khan Younis training centre.”

Washington has raised concerns and asked Israel for information over incidents during the conflict, but has rarely been openly critical of a specific Israeli action.

Hours after the attack as night fell, U.N. staff were still unable to reach the area and all communications were shut down.

Israeli forces have launched their biggest ground offensive in at least a month, encircling the city which is housing hundreds of thousands of people who fled fighting elsewhere in Gaza.

Residents say that unlike in previous Israeli assaults, announcements warning them to leave came only after the operation was underway and the main road out already shut.

The bulk of the 2.3 million-strong population of Gaza is now penned into Khan Younis and the towns just north and south of it. Palestinian officials say the Israelis have cut off and besieged the city’s main hospitals, making it impossible for rescuers to reach many of the wounded and the dead.

The Israeli military did not directly address the strike on the vocational centre but released a statement describing the wider area as a base of Hamas fighters. It acknowledged that fighting was taking place in the presence of large numbers of civilians.

It also said the unfolding battle required different tactics from its earlier fight in northern Gaza, when it gave residents weeks of warning to evacuate before sending troops in: “What is true for Gaza City is not necessarily true for this area,” it said.