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At least nine dead after UN complex hit in southern Gaza, official says

Tank shells have hit part of a UN training centre sheltering thousands of displaced people in Khan Younis, killing at least nine people and wounding 75, a UN official has said. It comes as Israeli forces advance through the southern Gaza city

Footage circulating among Palestinians showed black smoke pouring into the sky above the training centre, run by the UN relief organisation for the Palestinians, the UNRWA.

“Two tank rounds hit building that shelters 800 people – reports now 9 dead and 75 injured,” the organisation’s director of Gaza affairs, Thomas White, said.

In response to questions about the shelling, the Israeli military said the wider area was a significant base of Hamas militants. “Dismantling Hamas’ military framework in western Khan Younis is the heart of the logic behind the operation,” it said.

Israel started its military offensive in the wake of the Hamas attack inside Israel on 7 October, which killed 1,200 people and saw more than 240 more taken hostage. In response to the incursion by Hamas, Israel has vowed to eradicate the militant group and has launched airstrikes and ground operations inside Hamas-controlled Gaza, backed up by a blockade. Health officials in Gaza say more than 25,000 people have been killed during the conflict so far.

Several sources had earlier told Reuters that Israel and the Hamas group that runs Gaza had made some progress in proxy talks on a 30-day ceasefire, during which Israeli hostages and Palestinian prisoners would be freed and more aid would enter the enclave.

In their biggest operation in a month, Israeli tanks have pushed through Khan Younis, where many Palestinians are sheltering after leaving the north of Gaza, the early focus of the war. Their main target appears to be the area around Khan Younis’ long-standing refugee camp, which includes the Nasser and Al-Amal hospitals and also the training centre run by UNRWA.

Residents reported fierce gunbattles in the area, where the military said it had killed “numerous” squads of gunmen “with sniper, tank and aerial fire”.

The Palestinian Red Cross Society, which runs the Al-Amal hospital, said troops had blockaded its staff inside and imposed a curfew in the area, including its local headquarters, where three displaced individuals had been killed. Israel says Hamas fighters operate in and around hospitals, which hospital staff and Hamas deny.

Martin Griffiths, UN coordinator of emergency relief, said on Tuesday that 24 people had been killed in strikes on an aid warehouse, U.N. centre and humanitarian zone in the Khan Younis area, and that an aid distribution centre had come under heavy bombardment.

The Israeli military had earlier ordered the evacuation of the area, which the UN humanitarian office said held half a million people, four-fifths of them displaced by fighting in other parts of Gaza. Israel says it has killed around 9,000 militants, a figure that Hamas dismisses.

Qatar, the US and Egypt have for weeks shuttled between Israel and Hamas trying to broker terms for a break in fighting, which would also allow in more food and medical supplies. More than 130 hostages are still being held in Gaza, according to Israel.

In November, each side blamed the other for the collapse of a seven-day truce in which Hamas had freed women, children and foreign hostages in exchange for daily releases of Palestinians held in Israeli prisons.

But the two sides remain at odds over how to permanently end the war, which Hamas insists must be decided as part of any ceasefire agreement, sources told Reuters.

Commenting on the report of ceasefire negotiations shortly after the two-far right partners in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government coalition expressed strong concerns, government spokesperson Ilana Stein issued a flat denial.

“Israel will not give up on the destruction of Hamas, the return of all the hostages, and there will be no security threat from Gaza towards Israel,” she said in a briefing.

“There will be no ceasefire. In the past there were pauses for humanitarian purposes. That agreement was breached by Hamas.”

White House spokesperson John Kirby said the US would support a pause in combat to free hostages and let aid in, but gave no timeframe and said he would not call the discussions “negotiations”. But he said US Middle East envoy Brett McGurk was in Cairo and due to hold “active” discussions.

Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi accused Israel of holding up aid deliveries from the Rafah border crossing into southern Gaza as “a form of pressure on the Gaza Strip and its people over the conflict and the release of hostages”.

Israel has repeatedly denied frequent UN accusations that it holds up aid convoys for any reason other than safety and security.

Reuters


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