Israeli artillery shelling hit the United nations centre for humanitarian assistance in Gaza City today, setting the building ablaze.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon immediately protested.
Then Israel’s prime minister said the Israeli military fired artillery shells at a U.N. compound in Gaza after militants opened fire from the location.
Ehud Olmert says Israeli forces “were attacked from there and the response was harsh.”
Olmert was quoted by the Associated Press.
John Ging, the head of operations in Gaza for the U.N. Relief and Works Agency said, “It’s a very big fire, and we’re not able to get it under control at the moment.”
“[Israeli] Defense Minister Barak said to me it was a grave mistake and he took it very seriously,” the UN Ban Ki-moon said at a news conference in Tel Aviv with Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni.
But Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev said the matter is still under investigation. When asked about Ban’s comment, Regev said Defense Minister Ehud Barak actually told the U.N. chief that “if it was Israel’s fire, it was a grave mistake.”
Regev said it was “not clear whose shells, whose fire hit the U.N. facility.”
“It could have been ours, it could have been Hamas’,” Regev said. “This is being investigated.”
Regez was quoted by CNN.
With gun battles going on around the facility, “the emergency services are not able to get to us.”
By Peace and Freedom
From The New York Times:
The military push may be aimed at stepping up pressure on Hamas as cease-fire talks in Egypt entered a pivotal stage.
Read the rest from the NYT:
A Unitet Nations worker is seen as smoke billows from Israeli bombardment at the United Nations headquarters in Gaza City, Thursday, Jan. 15, 2009. Witnesses and U.N. officials said that Israeli shells struck the United Nations headquarters in Gaza City.The U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon has expressed ‘strong protest and outrage’ to Israel over the shelling of the compound.(AP Photo/Hatem Moussa)
From Associated Press
The U.N. chief says he has expressed “strong protest and outrage” to Israel over the shelling of a United Nations compound in Gaza City.
Ban Ki-moon is demanding an investigation into Thursday’s shelling. He says Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak has told him it was a “grave mistake.”
Israeli shells damaged the international organization’s headquarters in Gaza City, according to witnesses and U.N. officials. U.N. spokesman Chris Gunness says at least three people were wounded.
Israel launched an offensive against Hamas in Gaza on Dec. 27.
From Peace and Freedom:
Thousands of Gazans are fleeting their homes as the Israeli Army works to root out Hamas militants in Gaza City.
The military action set the United Nations office structure ablaze today in Gaza City
Fighting is now in the city’s residential neighborhoods on Day 20, Thurswday, January 15, 2009.
In Gaza, the dead now number over 1,000.
Israel Air Force planes struck some 70 targets overnight, including weapons positions, rocket squads and a mosque in southern Gaza that it said served as an arsenal, the military said.
President Assad of Syria asked both sides to agree immediately to a cease fire and then work out their cross border smuggling issues later.
Israel insist on a regime to prohibit the re-arming of Hamas through the Gazan borders.
But Syria is not trusted in Israel where it is often seen as an aid to Iran and militant anti-Israeli forces like Hamas and Hezbollah.
Yesterday, Hamas seemed on the verge of agreement of an international 10 day cease fire brokered in Cairo, Egypt.
Israel was to again consider the cease fire idea today.
In Israel, Defense Minister Ehud Barak is known to favor a cease fire while Prime Minister Olmert is resisting.
Haaretz reported that the disagreement is causing trouble in the Israeli war cabinet.
Following press reports Wednesday that Barak wanted to see a humanitarian cease-fire, sources close to Olmert were quoted as saying that Hamas saw and heard what was going on in Israel and “draws encouragement” from this, concluding that Israel was searching for a way out of the military operation.
“The irresponsibility of ministers – regardless of how senior they are – in leading private initiatives is unfortunate,” one of these officials said.
A United Nations worker surveys the damage from Israeli bombardment at the United Nations headquarters in Gaza City, Thursday, Jan. 15, 2009. Witnesses and U.N. officials said that Israeli shells struck the United Nations headquarters in Gaza City.The U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon has expressed ‘strong protest and outrage’ to Israel over the shelling of the compound.(AP Photo/Hatem Moussa)
The official said that the publication of these plans “gives encouragement to Hamas, gives a shot in the arm to their backers, and has an immediate effect of the fate of a million Israelis in the South and thousands of IDF soldiers carrying out operations inside Gaza.”
But Arab nations trying to assist in the cease fire process were in disagreement how how and when to hold an Arab summit.
Hamas spokesman Mohammed Nizal said Wednesday, “Is it possible to get into the third week of this Zionist aggression against Gaza and the Arabs can’t hold a summit for Gaza and to stop this aggression?
John E. Carey
Peace and Freedom
Smoke billows from Gaza on Thursday as fighting continued to rage.
The Associated Press reported:
Witnesses say Israeli ground troops are advancing into crowded residential areas of Gaza City and thousands of terrified residents are fleeing their homes.
Israeli troops backed by helicopter gunships, tanks and heavy guns thrust deeper into the city than ever before Thursday to seek Hamas fighters, they said.
It wasn’t clear whether this would be a brief foray or signal a new phase in Israel’s devastating offensive against Gaza’s Islamic Hamas rulers.
Israel has balked at launching all-out urban warfare in Gaza City, where Hamas militants are more familiar with the lay of the land and Israeli casualties would be liable to spiral.
Israel launched the offensive on Dec. 27 to stop militant rocket fire on southern Israel from Gaza.