UN agency says Gaza aid centre hit by Israeli forceson March 13, 2024 at 4:39 pm

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Israel’s military has not commented on the UNRWA’s report that an employee was killed in Rafah.

A Palestinian man reacts as blood is seen on the floor at an UNRWA aid distribution centre in Rafah, southern Gaza, following an alleged Israeli air strike. Photo: 13 March 2024Image source, Reuters

The UN agency for Palestinian refugees says a member of staff was killed and 22 others were injured when Israeli forces hit a food distribution centre in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip.

UNRWA chief Philippe Lazzarini said attacks on its facilities had “become commonplace in blatant disregard to international humanitarian law”.

The Hamas-run health ministry said an Israeli air strike killed five people.

The Israeli military has so far not commented on the incident.

Rafah is crammed with an estimated 1.4 million Palestinians who are seeking shelter from Israel’s ground offensive elsewhere in Gaza.

The UN’s secretary general has warned that a threatened Israeli assault on the city could “plummet the people of Gaza into an even deeper circle of hell”.

The war in Gaza began when Hamas gunmen attacked southern Israel on 7 October, killing about 1,200 people and taking 253 others as hostages.

More than 31,200 people have been killed in Gaza in the military campaign that Israel launched in response, according to the Hamas-run health ministry.

Wednesday’s explosion reportedly hit the eastern side of the food distribution centre, which is in the eastern part of Rafah. Those killed were said to be a 15-year-old boy and four men aged between 27 and 50.

“It’s a UNRWA centre, expected to be secure,” Rafah resident Sami Abu Salim told the AFP news agency as he surveyed the damage.

“Some came to work to distribute aid to the people in need of food during the [Islamic] holy month of Ramadan. Suddenly, they were struck by two missiles.”

UNRWA spokeswoman Juliette Touma told the BBC that up to 60 people were believed to have been working in the distribution centre at the time.

Mr Lazzarini said in a statement that it was one of the very few UNRWA distribution centres still operating in Gaza after five months of war.

“[It] comes as food supplies are running out, hunger is widespread and, in some areas, turning into famine,” he warned.

“Every day, we share the co-ordinates of all our facilities across the Gaza Strip with parties to the conflict. The Israeli army received the co-ordinates including of this facility yesterday.”

UNRWA says at least 165 of its 13,000 employees in Gaza have been killed and more than 150 of its facilities have been hit since the start of the war.

More than 400 people have also been killed while seeking shelter under the UN flag, according to the agency.

Israel has accused UNRWA of supporting Hamas, which is proscribed as a terrorist organisation by Israel, the UK, US and other countries.

The agency has denied this, but in January it sacked nine of the 12 employees accused in an Israeli document of playing a part in the 7 October attacks.

The UN has yet to publish the results of an internal investigation launched as the US and other donors paused funding in response to the allegations.

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