Israel denies role in Gaza UN compound strike amid US rebuke

The United Nations reported Wednesday that its compound in Gaza, sheltering displaced Palestinians, was hit by tank fire, causing “mass casualties.” Israel denied involvement, suggesting Hamas might be responsible.

The UN stated the attack targeted a vocational training center in Khan Younis, southern Gaza, housing 30,000 people. The incident drew condemnation from the United States, marking a rare instance of direct criticism.

James McGoldrick, UN Humanitarian Coordinator for the Palestinian Territory, described extensive damage and numerous casualties. “Many people are trying to flee, but are unable,” he said.

Thomas White, director of Gaza affairs for the UN agency UNRWA, reported two tank rounds struck a building sheltering 800 people. The incident resulted in at least nine deaths and 75 injuries. UNRWA’s head, Philippe Lazzarini, indicated the death toll might rise.

Lazzarini emphasized the compound’s marked status and shared coordinates with Israeli authorities, accusing them of disregarding war rules.

In Washington, State Department spokesperson Vedant Patel expressed deep concern. “Civilians and UN facilities must be protected,” Patel stated, emphasizing the need for humanitarian worker safety.

Initially, Israel’s military acknowledged intense combat in the Khan Younis area, known for Hamas fighter presence. However, following U.S. criticism, they denied targeting the compound, citing ongoing investigations to assess if Hamas fire caused the strike.

Since late October, when Israel’s ground offensive began, Washington has voiced concerns but seldom openly criticized specific Israeli actions. Communication difficulties and access issues persist for UN staff post-attack.

The offensive has led to widespread displacement, with most of Gaza’s 2.3 million population now concentrated in Khan Younis. Palestinian officials accuse Israel of besieging key medical facilities, hindering rescue efforts.

Israel maintains that the area houses Hamas military infrastructure. “Dismantling Hamas’ framework in Khan Younis is crucial,” an Israeli military statement read, acknowledging the challenges posed by civilian presence and sensitive sites.