UN: Israeli Shells Hit Aid Compound

(AP Photo/Hatem Moussa)
A spokesman for the United Nations humanitarian relief agency in Gaza says Israeli shells containing the controversial chemical white phosphorus struck their compound in Gaza City Thursday, setting at least one building on fire and injuring three people.

UNRWA spokesman Johan Eriksson told the British Broadcasting Corp. via phone from Jerusalem that he had just spoken to the agency's boss in Gaza City, who confirmed to him that at least three shells containing white phosphorus hit their sprawling compound.

"Fire is raging inside our compound. It is inside a mechanical workshop," Eriksson told the BBC, adding that shipping pallets loaded with humanitarian aid were also on fire inside the compound.

"Firefighters cannot do anything. White phosphorus has landed and these fires cannot be put out," said Eriksson. "Three people inside the compound are injured so far."

He said hundreds of Palestinian refugees were being sheltered at the sprawling compound, but they were at least a couple hundred yards away from the fire. However, he warned that the blaze was dangerously close — just several yards — to fuel tankers and a fuel pump on the compound grounds.

Eriksson said senior U.N. officials were in constant contact with "the highest level of the Israeli Army" and were urging them to "stop firing in the immediate vicinity of the compound."

"So far our calls have been unheard," he said.

The shelling came as United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was in Jerusalem Thursday to push a cease-fire agreement. According to the Associated Press, Ban had expressed "strong protest and outrage over the incident."

The AP said Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak told Ban it had been a "grave mistake." There was no comment from the Israelis on the alleged use of white phosphorus.

Eriksson said the senior UNRWA official in Gaza City, John Ging, was a former Irish soldier and had confirmed the use of white phosphorus.

Use of the incendiary chemical has not been completely banned, but aid groups have said Israel's use of it in densely populated areas violates internationally accepted rules of combat. Israel maintains it only uses weapons in accordance with international laws.