U.N. compound ablaze in Gaza fighting
* Story Highlights
* Fighting near U.N. relief agency's HQ in Gaza City sets compound ablaze
* Main U.N. aid agency in Gaza calls for Israel and Hamas to stop 20-day war
* Israel, Hamas have refused Security Council resolution calling for
* More than 1,000 Palestinians killed, nearly 5,000 wounded in conflict
GAZA CITY (CNN) -- Fighting between Israeli troops and Palestinian gunmen in
Gaza City set part of a U.N. relief agency's central storehouse for
humanitarian aid ablaze, its director said Thursday.
The fire left black smoke hanging over Gaza City, and there was no way to
control the fire, said John Ging, the head of operations in Gaza for the U.N.
Relief and Works Agency.
"It's a very big fire, and we're not able to get it under control at the
moment," he said. With gun battles going on around the facility, "the emergency
services are not able to get to us."
The compound was hit by shrapnel and tank fire during clashes Thursday morning,
Ging said. Three workers were hurt, and the compound's warehouse and workshop
were burning out of control within an hour and a half, he said. VideoWatch as
fire blazes at U.N. compound »
"What we've had all night and into this morning is a relentless bombardment of
this area by artillery fire, which is coming from kilometers away, and by tank
fire," he said. He said staffers identified the source of the fires as white
phosphorous shells, whose use is restricted under international law.
There was no immediate comment from the Israeli military on the allegation. But
the U.S.-based group Human Rights Watch has accused Israel of using white
phosphorous shells in Gaza during its campaign against Hamas, which has ruled
Gaza since 2007.
The group said that while the use of white phosphorus to obscure military
movements is "a permissible use in principle," the substance can burn civilians
and start fires in the densely populated region.
The Israel Defense Forces initially denied using the ordnance. But by Monday,
Israeli officials said only that any shells fired in Gaza "are in accordance
with international law."
Aid workers were already warning that the new fighting between Israel and the
Palestinian militant group Hamas threatened to bring about a humanitarian
disaster. Following the last two days of bombardment, the private relief agency
CARE announced it was canceling its distribution of food and medical aid to the
territory during Thursday's fighting as well. Read an aid worker's diary
"Desperately needed supplies are ready to be distributed today, but we cannot
reach the people in need because of the bombing," Martha Myers, the charity's
director in the Palestinian territories, said in a written statement.
And the Foreign Press Association said international news agency offices in
Gaza City was hit by Israeli fire Thursday and demanded Israel stop shooting at
the building that houses them.
"We note that these buildings are well known landmarks in Gaza and that the IDF
has been clearly notified of their location on several occasions," the agency
UNRWA spokesman Christopher Gunness said the agency had urged Israel to stop
fighting nearby, but had no response. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who
is in the region for talks aimed at ending the now 20-day war, was meeting
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak as the fire burned.
Gunness urged both Israel and Hamas, which has been firing rockets into
southern Israel, to heed the "conscience of the world" and comply with a U.N.
resolution calling for a cease-fire.
But he added: "I'm standing looking over the town of Beit Hanoun, and with
every dull thud and every plume of smoke that comes out of there, it's sad to
say that the parties on the ground are not listening."
Israeli aircraft struck 70 targets in Gaza overnight, the Israel Defense Forces
reported Thursday, while fighting on the ground left 11 Israeli troops wounded.
The military said about 35 armed Palestinian fighters were wounded or killed in
those clashes, mostly by airstrikes.
The Israeli military has been halting its bombardment for daily three-hour
stretches to allow trucks loaded with food, fuel and medical supplies to enter
the territory. It said it planned to let 170 trucks through the border on
Thursday, and announced the appointment of an army officer, Brig. Gen. Shimi
Daniel, to coordinate humanitarian efforts. VideoWatch as civilians suffer most
Israel launched its campaign against Gaza on December 27 in an effort to halt
the firing of rockets at its southern cities. That fire persisted Thursday,
with at least 10 rockets or mortar shells striking Israeli territory, the IDF
More than 1,000 Palestinians have been killed and nearly 5,000 wounded since
the conflict began, Palestinian officials said Wednesday. Israel said 10 of its
soldiers and three civilians have been killed and more than 100 soldiers have
Hamas refuses to recognize Israel's right to exist and has been designated a
terrorist organization by the Israeli government, the United States and the
European Union. A top official of the movement, which won Palestinian elections
in 2006, said Wednesday it would accept a cease-fire only if the Jewish state
withdraws from Gaza and lifts its economic blockade of the territory.
The issue has split the Arab nations into two camps: Those, like Egypt, who
want an end to Hamas' political influence, and others, like Qatar, who are more
sympathetic to the movement.
CNN's Michal Zippori and Talal Abu Rahmi contributed to this report.
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