Jan 16, 2009

World - Food, medicine destroyed as Israeli forces attack Gaza UN compound

Atul Aneja

DUBAI: Israeli forces attacked a United Nations compound in Gaza with phosphorus explosives despite the presence of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in the neighbourhood.

A hospital was also hit in a locality on the outskirts of Gaza City. “They are phosphorus fires so they are extremely difficult to put out because if you put water on it, it will just generate toxic fumes and do nothing to stop the burning,” observed John Ging, head of UN relief operations in Gaza.

“This is going to burn down the entire warehouse ... thousands and thousands of tonnes of food, medical supplies and other emergency assistance are there.” At least three phosphorus bombs struck the UN compound.

Mr. Ban told reporters in Tel Aviv that he was outraged by the strike, which appeared to signal Israel’s complete disregard for the world body. “I have conveyed my strong protest and outrage and demanded a full explanation from the Defence Minister and Foreign Minister [of Israel],” he said.

Despite intensifying the bombardment, Israeli troops have not moved into the heart of Gaza City so far. Analysts say in case the Israeli infantry advances inside the city, it is likely to result in high-casualty urban warfare with the Palestinian Hamas fighters.

Israeli forces are reported to be pounding Gaza’s Rafah border with Egypt with new high-penetration bombs that have been specially developed to destroy tunnels and underground complexes. In a recent interview with Al Arabiya satellite channel, Musa Abu Marzuq, a top leader of Hamas, said Gaza was battleground for new type of weapons. “White phosphorus [and] vacuum...bombs have been dropped. For the first time, a various range of tanks, artillery, and aircraft are being tested. I believe that these experiments are being carried out on the population of the Gaza Strip at the moment.”

Amid the military pressure, negotiations for a ceasefire e gathered some momentum in Egypt. Israeli negotiator Amos Gilad held talks with Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman after Hamas representatives had briefed the Egyptians of their stand. Hamas negotiators in Egypt also reiterated at a press conference their willingness to enter into a ceasefire. However, Salah el-Bardaweel said on Wednesday that Hamas had demanded the lifting of the siege, opening of border crossing points and compensation for the Palestinian people. Diplomatic sources told The Hindu that the Jawaharlal Nehru Library donated by the Government of India, during a visit to Gaza by the former External Affairs Minister, Jaswant Singh, was also destroyed when the Azhar University, where it was located, came under attack recently. At least 1,066 Palestinians, including 311 children and 97 women have been killed as guns continued to boom on the twentieth day of the Israeli offensive.

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