Main UN compound in Gaza shelled with 'white phosphorus'

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Thursday, January 15, 2009

A spokesman says that the Gaza headquarters of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) has been hit by shells containing white phosphorus.

Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations (UN) Secretary-General, expressed "strong protest and outrage" to the Israeli Government over the attack. "The number of casualties has reached an unbearable point," said Ban.

Ehud Olmert responded by saying that there were Palestinian fighters in the compound, launching mortars at Israeli troops.

"We do not want such incidents to take place and I am sorry for it but I don’t know if you know, but Hamas fired from the UNRWA site. This is a sad incident and I apologise for it," Olmert said.

A previous accusation was made against the UN after another UN building housing refugees was hit by Israeli tank shells a week ago. According to UNRWA official Christopher Gunness, the accusation was later retracted by the Israeli government.

Ehud Barak, the Israeli Defence Minister, said it was "a grave mistake".

Along with UNRWA headquarters, a Palestinian hospital was set ablaze, and a media headquarters housing the Reuters news agency and other Palestinian reporters was also hit wounding two cameramen. Around 500 people were sheltering in the Al-Quds hospital when it was bombed by Israel and hospital officials say they were hit with white phosphorus, a substance which sparks fires which cannot be put out by water and which causes serious burns and respiratory problems to anyone who comes in contact with it.

Adnan Abu Hasna, a spokesman for UNRWA, said fires were still raging hours after the attack and "tens of millions of dollars worth of aid" had been destroyed.

Christopher Gunness issued a statement on the attacks saying, "There have been three hits on the UNRWA headquarters, the UNRWA compound in Gaza, including, I’m told by [UNRWA head] John Ging, white phosphorus. Three of our staff members have been injured. The workshop in our compound is in flames, and nearby are loaded fuel tankers. So the situation is extremely dangerous and extremely serious. We have been on the phone to the Israeli authorities, asking them to call off their fire from around the compound of a neutral international organization. We have not had the answer we want." UNRWA reports that the fire at the compound will destroy tons of medical and food aid.

United Nations Children's Fund joined the Red Cross in speaking out against the violence today, saying the deaths of children in Gaza were unacceptable.


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