Israeli airstrike kills eight at Gaza aid centre

CAIRO   -   Eight Palestinians were killed on Sunday in an Israeli airstrike on a training college near Gaza City being used to distribute aid, Palestinian witnesses said, as Israeli tanks pushed further into the southern city of Rafah. The strike hit part of a vocational college run by the UN Palestinian refugee agency UNRWA now providing aid to displaced families, the witnesses said.

“Some people were coming to receive coupons and others had been displaced from their houses and they were sheltering here. Some were filling up water, others were receiving coupons, and suddenly we heard something falling. We ran away, those who were carrying water let it spill,” said Mohammed Tafesh, one of the witnesses.

A low-rise building completely demolished and bodies wrapped in blankets laid out beside the road, waiting to be taken away.

“We pulled out martyrs [from beneath the rubble], one who used to sell cold drinks and another who used to sell pastries and others who distributed or received coupons,” Tafesh said. “There are about four or five martyrs and 10 injured. Thank God, the condition of the injured is good.”

The Israeli military did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Juliette Touma, UNRWA’s Director of Communications, said the agency was looking into the details of the reported attack before providing more information.

“Since the beginning of the war, we have recorded that nearly 190 of our buildings have been hit. This is the vast majority of our buildings in Gaza,” she said.

A total of 193 UNRWA team members had been killed in the conflict, she said.

More than eight months into Israel’s war in the Hamas-administered Palestinian enclave, its advance is focused on the two areas its forces have yet to seize - Rafah on Gaza’s southern tip and the area surrounding Deir al-Balah in the centre.

Israel’s ground and air campaign in Gaza was triggered when Hamas-led militants stormed into southern Israel on Oct. 7, killing around 1,200 people and seizing more than 250 hostages, according to Israeli tallies.

The offensive has left Gaza in ruins, killed almost 37,600 people, according to Palestinian health authorities, and left nearly the entire population homeless and destitute.

Residents said Israeli tanks had advanced to the edge of the Mawasi displaced persons’ camp in the northwest of Rafah in fierce fighting with Hamas-led fighters, part of a push into western and northern Rafah in which they had blown up dozens of houses in recent days.

Images of two Israeli tanks stationed on a hilltop overlooking the coastal area went viral on social media, but Reuters could not independently verify them.

“The fighting with the resistance has been intense. The occupation forces are overlooking the Mawasi area now, which forced families there to head for Khan Younis,” said one resident, who asked not to be named, on a chat app.

The Israeli military said it was continuing “intelligence-based, targeted operations” in the Rafah area and had located weapons stores and tunnel shafts, and killed Palestinian gunmen.

The armed wings of Hamas and the Islamic Jihad movement said their fighters had attacked Israeli forces in Rafah with anti-tank rockets and mortar bombs and pre-planted explosive devices.

Another strike killed two people in Nuseirat in central Gaza.

On Saturday, Palestinian health officials said at least 40 Palestinians had been killed in separate Israeli strikes in some northern Gaza districts, where the Israeli army said it had attacked Hamas’s military infrastructure. Hamas said the targets were the civilian population.

In Beit Lahiya in the northern Gaza Strip, health officials at Kamal Adwan Hospital said two babies had died of malnutrition, taking the number of children dead of malnutrition or dehydration since Oct. 7 to at least 31, a number that health officials say reflects under-recording.

Separately, Israeli troops tied a wounded Palestinian man to a military vehicle during a raid in the occupied West Bank city of Jenin, the army said Sunday, admitting that soldiers had violated operational procedures.

Footage of the incident, which occurred on Saturday, has gone viral and shows a Jenin resident strapped horizontally to the bonnet of a military jeep as it passes through a narrow alley.

Medics identified the Palestinian as Mujahid Fayyad from the Jabriyat neighbourhood located between the town of Burqin and Jenin.

The military said the Palestinian was wounded during a “counterterrorism operation” launched in the area of Wadi Burqin to apprehend wanted suspects.

During an exchange of fire between troops and fighters, one of the suspects was wounded and apprehended, the military said in a statement.

“In violation of orders and standard operating procedures, the suspect was taken by the forces while tied on top of a vehicle,” the statement said.

“The conduct of the forces in the video of the incident does not conform to the values of the IDF (military),” it added.

“The incident will be investigated and dealt with accordingly,” the military said, adding that the wounded man was transferred to the Palestinian Red Crescent for treatment.

Fayyad is currently being treated at Jenin’s Ibn Sina hospital, medics at the facility told AFP.

Jenin has long been a stronghold for Palestinian fighter groups, and the Israeli army routinely carries out raids in the city and adjacent refugee camps.

Violence in the West Bank, which had already surged before the Israel-Hamas war broke out on October 7, has only escalated since.

At least 553 Palestinians have been killed in the West Bank by Israeli troops or settlers since the Gaza war broke out, according to Palestinian officials.

Attacks by Palestinians have killed at least 14 Israelis in the West Bank over the same period, according to an AFP tally of Israeli official figures.

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