- Written by David Gretten and Lipika Pelham
- BBC News
The United Nations Palestinian refugee agency said that at least 12 people were killed and 75 others were injured when a United Nations facility housing civilians was bombed in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip.
UNRWA said that two shells hit its training center in Khan Yunis during fighting on the western outskirts of the city.
Its commissioner condemned the “flagrant disregard for the basic rules of war.”
The Israeli army said that it ruled out that the incident was the result of an air or artillery strike launched by its forces.
It added that it was reviewing Israeli operations nearby and considering the possibility of “Hamas fire.”
Israeli forces are fighting Hamas fighters as they advance west of Khan Yunis, a day after the army announced that it had completely surrounded the city.
Clashes and bombing around the city's two main hospitals also left thousands of patients, staff and others unable to leave.
The conflict erupted as a result of an unprecedented cross-border attack by Hamas militants into southern Israel on October 7, in which some 1,300 people were killed and about 250 others were taken hostage.
More than 25,700 people have been killed in Gaza since then, according to the Hamas-run Health Ministry in the Strip.
An estimated 1.7 million people – nearly three-quarters of the population – have also been displaced by fighting over the past 12 weeks, many of them taking refuge in or near UN facilities.
The Khan Yunis training center is one of the largest UNRWA shelters, with between 30,000 and 40,000 people said to be living within its grounds.
UNRWA said the compound is clearly marked, its coordinates have been shared with Israeli authorities, and that it and the civilians inside must be protected under international law.
However, at least six displaced people were killed and many more injured when the training center was bombed on Monday during heavy fighting in the surrounding area. According to the agency.
On Wednesday afternoon, UNRWA Director in Gaza, Thomas White, said that a building in the facility that was housing 800 people from northern Gaza had been bombed.
In an interview with the BBC from Rafah in the evening, he said that the building had been hit by “two tank shells” and that at least nine people had been killed.
On Thursday morning, White issued a statement saying the building “was hit by two shells and caught fire.” He added that it has now been confirmed that 12 people have been killed and that 15 of the injured are in critical condition.
“A number of missions to assess the situation were rejected. Yesterday evening, the United Nations was finally able to reach the affected areas to treat the injured, bring medical supplies and evacuate the injured patients to Rafah.”
He added: “The situation in Khan Yunis confirms the continued failure to respect the basic principles of international humanitarian law: distinction, proportionality and taking precautions when carrying out attacks. This is unacceptable and abhorrent and must stop.”
In response to UNRWA's initial reports, the IDF said: “After examining our operational systems, the IDF has now ruled out that this incident was the result of an air or artillery strike by the IDF.”
He added, “A comprehensive review of the forces' operations in the region is underway.” He added, “The Israeli army is also studying the possibility that the raid was the result of Hamas fire.”
Vedant Patel of the US State Department echoed Washington's calls to protect civilians in Gaza.
“We regret today's attack on the United Nations training center in Khan Yunis,” she said, describing it as “incredibly disturbing.”
The Israeli military also said on Wednesday afternoon that its forces “launched a military maneuver in western Khan Yunis” targeting “settlement sites, infrastructure, and Hamas command and control centers.”
He added, “Dismantling Hamas' military framework in western Khan Yunis is the essence of the logic behind the operation.”
The Israeli army added that Hamas “exploits the civilian population, exploits shelters and hospitals” – something the movement denied.
On the other hand, the Ministry of Health in Gaza accused the Israeli army of “isolating hospitals in Khan Yunis and committing massacres in the western area of the city.”
The Palestine Red Crescent Society said the Al Amal Hospital it runs and its local headquarters are under “siege” by Israeli forces, trapping the sick, wounded and an estimated 13,000 displaced people.
“They are currently unable to evacuate with thousands of people in hospital, including 850 patients, because access to and from the building is difficult or too dangerous.”
The Israeli army issued evacuation orders for the western parts of Khan Yunis, including those in the Al-Nasser and Al-Amal areas. The United Nations estimates that there are about 88,000 residents and 425,000 displaced people in the region.
White told the BBC that tens of thousands of people were now on the move, heading south to Rafah, on the border with Egypt, where up to 1.4 million people live.
Five men were seen walking towards the combat area carrying a white flag, before gunfire occurred and one of them fell to the ground. It was not clear who fired the shots.
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak was asked in Parliament on Wednesday whether these images would prompt him to push for a ceasefire in Gaza.
He replied: “No one wants to see this conflict continue a moment longer than is necessary, and we want to see an immediate and sustainable humanitarian truce.”
Efforts involving several countries are continuing to try to reach a ceasefire, with one plan said to include a month-long truce and the gradual release of Israeli hostages and Palestinian prisoners.
But it appears that Israel and Hamas have rejected the proposals, and hopes for any progress have diminished.
Meanwhile, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi accused Israel of deliberately obstructing aid deliveries at the Egyptian-controlled Rafah border crossing, as “a form of pressure on the Gaza Strip and its people over the conflict and the release of the hostages.”
However, the Israeli Defense Ministry agency that coordinates deliveries with Egypt and the United Nations rejected this claim, insisting that “there is no limit to the amount of aid that can enter Gaza.”
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