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ISRAELI forces bombarded the United Nations headquarters in the Gaza Strip with phosphorus shells on Thursday, as hundreds of refugees cowered inside.
UN secretary-general Ban Ki Moon, who is in Tel Aviv on a mission to end Israel’s devastating offensive, expressed “outrage” over the bombing, which set buildings ablaze and injured at least three people.
Only that morning, the UN compound in Gaza was put to use as a makeshift shelter for hundreds of Gaza City residents seeking sanctuary from the relentless shelling.
Two of the shells hit a UN warehouse housing humanitarian supplies, setting off intense fires.
UN relief operations director John Ging said: “They are phosphorus fires so they are extremely difficult to put out because if you put water on it, it will just generate toxic fumes and do nothing to stop the burning.
“This is going to burn down the entire warehouse. Thousands and thousands of tons of food, medical supplies and other emergency assistance are there,” he warned.
UN spokesman Adnan Abu Hasna said that the UN had given Israel the co-ordinates of the building and that the compound was also clearly marked with UN flags and logos.
Israeli soldiers, backed by tanks and warplanes, pushed into a crowded Gaza City neighbourhood for the first time, sending terrified residents fleeing for cover.
Shells struck the al-Quds Hospital, causing fires that trapped about 400 patients and staff inside the main building.
There were no immediate reports of casualties.
Five high-rise apartment buildings and a building housing media outlets in Gaza City were also hit, injuring several journalists.
Bullets entered another building housing Associated Press offices and they lodged into the wall of a room where two staffers were working, but no-one was wounded.
The Foreign Press Association, which represents journalists covering Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories, demanded a halt to attacks on press buildings.
Over 1,066 Palestinians, including at least 311 children, have been killed and 4,700 have been injured since Tel Aviv kicked off Operation Cast Lead on December 27.
Addressing soldiers at a southern base on Thursday, Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak declared that the offensive would continue, but that Israel’s eyes were “also open to the possibility of winding up this operation and consummating Israel’s exceptional accomplishments through diplomacy.”