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Tuesday, March 5, 2024

Nine Dead, 75 Injured as Shells Strike UN Center in Gaza

The UN reported that a significant UN compound in Gaza, housing displaced Palestinians, was struck by Israeli tanks, resulting in “mass casualties.” Israel denied responsibility, suggesting that Hamas might have initiated the shelling. The attack targeted a vocational training center in Khan Younis, southern Gaza, where around 30,000 displaced people sought shelter. The United States expressed rare outright condemnation, emphasizing the need to protect civilians and respect the designated nature of UN facilities. At least nine people were killed, and 75 were wounded in the incident, with concerns that the death toll could be higher.

Initially, Israel’s military labeled the broader Khan Younis area as a base for Hamas fighters and acknowledged ongoing fighting near a significant civilian population. In response to Washington’s criticism, a second statement from the military asserted that their operational systems examination ruled out their forces striking the center. They mentioned an ongoing thorough review to explore the possibility that the strike resulted from Hamas fire.

Since the onset of Israel’s ground offensive in late October, Washington has voiced concerns and sought information about incidents, but open criticism of specific Israeli actions has been rare. After the attack, as night fell, UN staff faced challenges reaching the area, with all communications shut down.

Israeli forces have initiated their largest ground offensive in at least a month, surrounding Khan Younis, where hundreds of thousands of people who fled conflict in other parts of Gaza are seeking refuge. Residents reported that Israeli evacuation warnings came after the operation had started, with the main exit already closed.

Most of Gaza’s 2.3 million population is now confined to Khan Younis and the surrounding towns. Palestinian officials claim that Israeli forces have blockaded the main hospitals in the city, hindering rescuers’ access to the wounded and deceased.

Also Read: Israeli Army Reports 21 Soldiers Killed in Gaza – Deadliest Day in Ground Operation

Israel argues that Hamas has established “command and control centers, outposts, and security headquarters” in the area. The military’s goal is to dismantle Hamas’ military infrastructure in western Khan Younis, acknowledging the challenges posed by the dense civilian population and the presence of shelters, hospitals, and sensitive sites.

Zak Hania remains stranded in the conflict-ridden Palestinian territory, while his wife and four Irish-born sons have successfully reached Ireland in November after escaping Gaza. Speaking to RTÉ’s Drivetime, Hania revealed that he is still in the Rafah area, where many seek refuge from Khan Younis, and emphasized the worsening conditions “day by day.”

Describing Rafah as overly crowded, with people everywhere, on roads, streets, and in tents, Hania expressed frustration at being unable to leave. Despite being in contact with the Department of Foreign Affairs, he claimed that the Israeli authorities are preventing his departure against his will.

Hania urged the Irish Government to take specific actions, including legal measures against the Israeli army. He stressed his right to travel back to Ireland, reunite with his family in Dublin, and highlighted the emotional toll of being separated from his wife and children.

In response, the Department of Foreign Affairs acknowledged Mr. Hania’s case, stating that consular assistance is being provided. However, it refrained from commenting on individual cases.

‘Where do we go?’

Palestinian health officials said at least 25,700 people had been killed in Gaza in the war, including 210 in the previous 24 hours. Israel launched its assault to wipe out Hamas after fighters stormed Israeli towns on 7 October, killing 1,200 people and capturing more than 240 hostages. In Rafah, a small town just south of Khan Younis on the Egyptian border, an air strike hit a mosque, and residents were gathering scattered pages of holy books from among the pulverized ruins.

Several men hoisted up a concrete block and pulled away rubble, revealing the legs of a dead man in jeans. When the body was finally pulled out, they carried it on a blanket under a stretcher, chanting religious slogans.

Several bodies were later laid in plastic body bags at a morgue, where relatives wailed in sorrow, clutching the corpses.

Um Khaled Baker, whose son was among the dead, told Reuters they had fled to Rafah because it was supposed to be safe.

“I don’t even have a tent to stay in. They bombed us, and my son is a young martyr. Where do we go? The old and helpless people? What can they do? Where do we go?”

The Palestinian Red Crescent Society, which runs the Al-Amal hospital in Khan Younis, said troops had blockaded its staff inside and imposed a curfew in the area, including its local headquarters, where three displaced individuals had been killed.

Israel says Hamas fighters operate in and around hospitals, which hospital staff and Hamas deny.

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