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UN food warehouse set ablaze by Israeli shells

 Palestinian firefighters work to try and put out a fire and save bags of food aid at the United Nations headquarters after it was hit in Israeli bomb...
 Palestinian firefighters work to try and put out a fire and save bags of food aid at the United Nations headquarters after it was hit in Israeli bomb...
 Palestinian firefighters work to try and put out a fire and save bags of food aid at the United Nations headquarters after it was hit in Israeli bomb...

MIDEAST ISRAEL PALESTINIANS

Palestinian firefighters work to try and put out a fire and save bags of food aid at the United Nations headquarters after it was hit in Israeli bomb...

MIDEAST ISRAEL PALESTINIANS

Palestinian firefighters work to try and put out a fire and save bags of food aid at the United Nations headquarters after it was hit in Israeli bomb...

MIDEAST ISRAEL PALESTINIANS

Palestinian firefighters work to try and put out a fire and save bags of food aid at the United Nations headquarters after it was hit in Israeli bomb...

Israeli shells set ablaze a food warehouse at U.N. headquarters in Gaza on Thursday, destroying hundreds of tons of emergency war rations intended for needy Gaza civilians, a senior U.N. official said.
A huge cloud of black smoke rose from the U.N. compound, visible across Gaza City. Flour spilled on the ground and mixed with soot, as Palestinian firefighters tried to douse the flames leaping toward the sky.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert initially said the Israeli military fired at the compound after Palestinian militants opened fire from the location.
However, the chief military spokesman, Brig. Gen. Avi Benayahu, later said that the incident was still under investigation. "If it becomes clear that we returned shots at the source of fire we will say so, and if it turns our we operated by mistake we will not hesitate to confess," he told Israel TV's Channel 2.
The shelling came as the U.N. secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, met with Israeli leaders in a bid to broker a cease-fire between Israel and Gaza's Hamas rulers. Ban expressed "outrage" over the shelling, which also injured three people.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Israeli forces "were attacked from there and the response was harsh." At a meeting with Ban, Olmert called the shelling a "sad incident" but said militants were responsible.
John Ging, a senior U.N. official in Gaza, dismissed as "nonsense" allegations that militants operated in the compound.
Chris Gunness, another U.N. official, said an Israeli military representative acknowledged in a meeting with U.N. officials that "the firing came from several hundred meters away from our compound, not from inside it."
Several U.N. installations have been hit by Israeli fire since the Dec. 27 start of Israel's war on Hamas targets. Last week, Israeli mortar hit a U.N. school in the Jebaliya refugee camp, killing dozens of civilians. Israel says its troops had responded to mortars fired by militants from near the school.
The U.N. Relief and Works Agency, or UNRWA, provides aid to hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees. It runs schools and clinics, and distributes food to the needy. During the war, it has transformed U.N. schools into emergency shelters for Gaza civilians fleeing the fighting.
Israel launched its ground offensive in Gaza on Jan. 3, and since then tanks and troops moved steadily closer to densely populated areas of Gaza City. Early Thursday, Israeli tanks and troops moved forward in southeastern Gaza City, toward the area where the U.N. compound is located.
Shrapnel from Israeli shells hit the U.N. compound intermittently, and U.N. staff became increasingly concerned, Ging said. "We warned the Israeli liaison people, right up to the highest level, through the morning of the peril we were in," he said.
As the fighting intensified Thursday morning, about 700 civilians from the neighborhood rushed to the U.N. compound, seeking shelter from Israeli shelling, Ging said.
Around 10 a.m., half an hour after the refugees arrived, a shell hit the courtyard, setting off a huge explosion, Ging said. A U.N. staffer and two refugees were injured by shrapnel.
An hour later, three more shells hit U.N. car repair workshops and a huge warehouse, where the U.N. is storing food and medicine for distribution to the needy. The shells set off a raging fire, and Ging said hundreds of tons of food were destroyed before the fire was brought under control.
"These are the supplies that would have been distributed today," Ging said. "This is a total disaster for us in terms of our whole effort (to aid Gazans)."
He said 30 trucks were also pinned down by the fighting and unable to pick up humanitarian aid from Gaza's borders.
"What is means is that the operation on the ground is not being resupplied today," he said. "It's a major interruption in our pipeline."
The civilians who had sought refuge at the compound were later moved to a U.N. school away from the fighting, he said.


Updated : 2021-05-07 13:26 GMT+08:00