Israel denies Gaza UN compound attack amid U.S. criticism
The United Nations reported on Wednesday that Israeli tanks had struck a large U.N. compound in Gaza, sheltering displaced Palestinians and causing "mass casualties."
However, Israel denied involvement and suggested that Hamas might have launched the attack. The U.N. stated that the strike targeted a vocational training center in Khan Younis, southern Gaza's main city, housing 30,000 displaced people. This incident drew rare outright condemnation from the United States.
"Mass casualties have occurred, some buildings are on fire, and there are reports of deaths. Many people are trying to flee but are unable to do so," said James McGoldrick, U.N. Humanitarian Coordinator for the Palestinian Territory. According to Thomas White, director of Gaza affairs for the U.N. agency UNRWA, two tank rounds struck a building sheltering about 800 displaced people. At least nine people were killed, and 75 were wounded. Philippe Lazzarini, the agency's head, stated that the death toll might be higher.
"The compound is a clearly marked U.N. facility, and we had shared its coordinates with Israeli authorities, as we do for all our facilities. This incident shows a blatant disregard for the basic rules of war," Lazzarini said. In Washington, Vedant Patel, a U.S. State Department spokesperson, deplored the attack on the U.N.'s Khan Younis training center. "Civilians must be protected, and the protected nature of U.N. facilities must be respected. Humanitarian workers must be safeguarded to continue providing life-saving assistance," Patel emphasized.
Israel's military initially described the wider Khan Younis area as a Hamas base, acknowledging nearby fighting among large civilian groups. After Washington's criticism, the military released a second statement. It said a review of operational systems ruled out Israeli forces striking the center, but it was still investigating the possibility of Hamas fire.
Since Israel's ground offensive began in late October, Washington has raised concerns and sought information about incidents, but rarely criticized specific Israeli actions openly. As night fell hours after the attack, U.N. staff still couldn't reach the area, and all communications were down.
Israel's most extensive ground offensive in at least a month has encircled Khan Younis, where hundreds of thousands fleeing fighting elsewhere in Gaza are staying. Residents reported that Israeli warnings to leave the area only came after the operation started and the main road out was already closed.
With most of Gaza's 2.3 million population now confined to Khan Younis and neighboring towns, Palestinian officials say Israelis have besieged the city's main hospitals, hindering rescuers from reaching many wounded and dead.
Israel stated that Hamas has "command and control centers, outposts, and security headquarters" in the area. "Dismantling Hamas' military framework in western Khan Younis is the operation's core logic," the Israeli military said. "It's a dense area with civilians, shelters, hospitals, and sensitive sites. We have seen terrorists use these sites."
In the aftermath, Palestinian health officials reported that at least 25,700 people had died in Gaza in the war, including 210 in the last 24 hours. Israel launched its assault to eliminate Hamas after fighters attacked Israeli towns on Oct. 7, killing 1,200 people and capturing over 240 hostages.
In Rafah, a small town just south of Khan Younis, an airstrike hit a mosque, leaving residents gathering holy book pages from the ruins. After retrieving a body from the debris, mourners carried it away, chanting religious slogans. Several bodies were later placed in body bags at a morgue, where relatives grieved.
Um Khaled Baker, whose son was among the dead, told Reuters they had fled to Rafah, believing it to be safe. "I don't even have a tent to stay in. They bombed us, and my son is a young martyr. Where do we go? What about the old and helpless? Where do we go?" she lamented.
The Palestinian Red Crescent Society, which runs the Al-Amal hospital in Khan Younis, said troops had blockaded its staff inside, imposing a curfew in the area, including its local headquarters, where three displaced people had been killed. Israel maintains that Hamas fighters operate in and around hospitals, a claim both hospital staff and Hamas deny.