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Israel says strike on Gaza UN food centre killed Hamas fighter

CAIRO — Israel said on Wednesday that its airstrike on a UN food distribution centre in southern Gaza killed a Hamas commander who had been targeted, and Palestinian health officials said it also killed four more people including a UN worker.

The Israeli military said the strike killed Mohammad Abu Hasna, whom it described as a Hamas fighter who provided intelligence to the group on Israeli troops’ positions and was “also involved in taking control of humanitarian aid and distributing it to Hamas terrorists.”

The name Mohammad Abdel-Halim Abu Hasna appears on the list of five fatalities from the strike, provided by Gaza health officials.

There was no immediate confirmation from Hamas that he was a member of the group now battling against Israeli forces in Gaza.

Earlier, the main UN agency for Palestinians (UNRWA) said one of its facilities had been hit in Rafah, an area in southern Gaza where more than half of Gaza’s 2.3 million population is sheltering.

At least one UNRWA staff member was among the five killed and 22 others were injured, the agency said and the facility’s coordinates had been shared with the Israeli military.

“Today’s attack on one of the very few remaining UNRWA distribution centres in the Gaza Strip comes as food supplies are running out, hunger is widespread and, in some areas, turning into famine,” said UNRWA chief Philippe Lazzarini.

Hamas has denied Israel’s accusations and says Israel is using famine to pressure the Palestinian population.

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Wednesday he was determined to have UNRWA replaced by other agencies without harming aid distribution, citing alleged links between the agency and Hamas fighters.

In Washington, US state secretary Antony Blinken at a news briefing said he had not yet received details of the incident but said Israel must protect safety of humanitarian workers despite tough conditions.

“You’re in a war zone. You have a terrorist group that is firing from hospitals, from schools from apartment buildings, but the Israeli military, the Israeli government have a responsibility and an obligation to do everything possible to ensure that the humanitarians can do their jobs,” said Blinken.

Aid

With the Gaza war now in its sixth month, The UN has warned that at least 576,000 people in Gaza – one-quarter of the population – are on the brink of famine and global pressure has been growing on Israel to allow more access to the enclave.

On Tuesday, the UN used a new land route to deliver food to northern Gaza for the first time in three weeks.

“We have been taking efforts to facilitate more aid into northern Gaza,” Israeli government spokesman Tal Heinrich told journalists on Wednesday. “This was a pilot to prevent Hamas from taking over the aid as they often do.”

The US, Jordan and others have conducted airdrops of aid in Gaza and on Tuesday a ship carrying 200 tonnes of aid left Cyprus in a pilot project to open a sea corridor to deliver supplies. While UN officials have welcomed new aid routes, they stress there is no substitute for land access.

The war began when Hamas fighters attacked Israel on Oct 7, killing 1,200 people and seizing 253 hostages, according to Israeli tallies. Israel then launched an air, sea and ground assault that has killed more than 31,000 Palestinians, health authorities in Hamas-run Gaza say.

Since the Gaza war began, violence has also risen in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, with stepped up Israeli military raids and Palestinian street attacks.

On Wednesday, Israeli officials said a 15-year-old Palestinian stabbed a soldier and a guard at a checkpoint between the West Bank and Jerusalem before being shot dead.

In separate incidents, Israeli forces killed two Palestinians during a raid in Jenin, the official Palestinian news agency WAFA said, while a 13-year-old Palestinian was killed by Israeli forces on the outskirts of Jerusalem, in what Israeli police described as a violent riot. — Reuters