14/07/2024

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‘Mass casualties’ after shell hits UN shelter in Gaza

‘Mass casualties’ after shell hits UN shelter in Gaza

By Celine Alkhaldi, Ibrahim Dahman and Kareem Khadder | CNN

A building sheltering hundreds of displaced people in the city of Khan Younis was hit on Wednesday, according to the UN, as Israeli forces ramped up attacks on southern Gaza, forcing streams of Palestinians to flee the neighborhood.

Wreaths of smoke hung over the UN shelter, after a huge blaze broke out at the UNRWA Khan Younis Training Center, video obtained by CNN showed.

“Buildings ablaze and mass casualties. Safe access to and from the center has been denied for two days. People are trapped,” Thomas White, the director of UNRWA Affairs, said on X.

At least nine people were killed and another 75 injured, White said, adding that a team from his agency and the World Health Organization were trying to reach the site. He said the building shelters 800 people and had been hit by Israeli tank fire.

However, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said in a statement that it has “currently” ruled out that the incident was “the result of an aerial or artillery strike by the IDF.”

It said a “thorough review of the operations of the forces in the vicinity is underway,” adding that it is “examining the possibility that the strike was a result of Hamas fire.”

In the past week, the IDF has intensified its offensive on Khan Younis, where medical facilities sheltering displaced civilians and health workers have been battered. The IDF maintains there are Hamas militants located in hospitals in the area. Relief agencies say the siege has blocked critical humanitarian operations.

The Israeli military launched its campaign in Gaza with the stated aim of eliminating Hamas, after more than 1,200 people were killed and more than 250 kidnapped during the militant group’s October 7 attacks on Israel, according to Israeli authorities.

Since then its bombardment and besiegement of the enclave has decimated swathes of the territory, diminishing food, fuel and water supplies and exposing more than 2.2 million civilians to starvation, dehydration and disease.

On Tuesday, UN Secretary-General António Guterres warned that Palestinians in Gaza “face inhumane, squalid conditions, struggling to simply make it through another day without proper shelter, heating, sanitary facilities, food and drinkable water.”

Israeli attacks on the Palestinian enclave have killed at least 25,700 people, and injured another 63,740, according to the Hamas-run Ministry of Health in Gaza. CNN cannot independently verify the figures due to the difficulties of reporting from the war zone.

Hospitals surrounded

Palestinian health officials and paramedics have also reported Israeli tanks and attack drones firing at people trying to flee the vicinity of the Amal and Nasser hospitals in Khan Younis.

The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza said Israeli forces have surrounded the Nasser Medical Complex, cutting off crucial medical, food, and fuel supplies.

“Hundreds of patients with infections and pregnant women are facing serious complications,” health ministry spokesperson Ashraf Al-Qudra said.

The Palestine Red Crescent Society (PRCS) said Israeli forces are “surrounding” their headquarters and the Al-Amal Hospital and have enforced “restrictions on movement around both the building and the hospital”.

Six people were killed in attacks on Khan Younis on Wednesday, PRCS added, three of which had been “targeted” at the entrance of their headquarters.

Israeli tanks also surrounded the compound of the Al-Aqsa University in the city where thousands have been sheltering, Palestinian state news agency WAFA said. It said civilians had been targeted elsewhere in southern Gaza in the last 24 hours.

Four civilians, including a child, were killed in an Israeli attack on a “rest stop” in the coastal town of Al-Mawasi, and a man fleeing fighting in Khan Younis was struck in his car, reported WAFA.

Israeli forces conducted “numerous intense air raids, described as ‘fire belts’ to accompany its ground incursion, which has extended all the way to the west of Khan Younis,” a Geneva-based NGO advocating for human rights in the region, Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor, said on Wednesday

Euro-Med HR reported that shelters housing “tens of thousands” of displaced people in the western part of Khan Younis, and in Al-Mawasi, are under siege by the Israeli military.

The IDF said they continue to operate in Khan Younis, where they are pursuing “military targets, outposts, infrastructure and command and control centers,” and said the operation there will continue for “several days.”

“The brigade combat team is located around the [Khan Younis] camp, in the western part, and have begun to operate within it.  The manoeuvre will continue against military targets that are in the area, outposts, infrastructure, and command and control centers,” the IDF said.

“There is an area with shelters, there are several hospitals, several sensitive sites. We have seen terrorists use these sites. Almost a week ago we saw a launch from the Nasser Hospital, there are terrorists located in these hospitals.

“This operation will continue for several days until we maximize the achievements: dismantling Hamas’ military framework and Hamas strongholds, which we are required to thoroughly dismantle,” added the IDF.

CNN cannot independently verify operational details reported by the IDF. CNN has sought comment from the IDF on whether its forces have surrounded the Nasser and Amal hospitals.

Thousands displaced

As the IDF surrounded the city of Khan Younis, thousands of Palestinians moved south towards Rafah, near the border with Egypt, where 1.3 million people have been displaced, according to the UN.

A CNN video recorded on Monday shows displaced people sitting on the side of streets and in the vicinity of the seashore as they head west and south. The IDF instructed civilians to leave several districts in and around the city and head toward the coast, which it described to CNN as “safer.”

The video shows cars, trucks, and tractors transporting families and their essential belongings, such as blankets, mattresses and food. Many, however, were walking.

Hisham Sayegh said he saw four people killed, which forced him to leave with his family as shelling in the area intensifies.

“There are dead people on the ground. We left them behind. There are people killed inside the houses,” Sayegh said. “We were expecting to die at any minute.”

Jamal al Rozzi, an aid worker displaced near Khan Younis, said he was forced to flee to Rafah on Wednesday after heavy bombardment in the area.

“We had three horrible nights,” Al Rozzi, who is executive director of the National Society for Rehabilitation, told CNN in a voice message.

“We had to evacuate again … because the area where we were was under bombardment,” he said. “It was heavy bombardment and we were hardly safe there.”