Israel says Hamas commander killed in Rafah strike that UN agency alleges hit its site


Israel said on Wednesday that its airstrike on a UN food distribution centre in southern Gaza killed a Hamas commander whom it targeted. 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 militant 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.”

In a statement, Hamas said Abu Hasna was a member of its police force, and condemned his killing as a “cowardly assassination” meant to disrupt aid distribution.

Hamas identified another of the five killed as the head of an emergency committee for Rafah, Nidal al-Sheikh Eid.

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 that it diverts food aid and says Israel is using famine to pressure the Palestinian population.

Israeli PM wants UN agency replaced

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 militants.

An Israeli tank moves near the border with the Gaza Strip in southern Israel.
An Isareli tank is seen on the move Wednesday in a part of southern Israel near the Gaza Strip border. (Tsafrir Abayov/The Associated Press)

In Washington, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said at a news briefing that he had not yet received details of the incident, but said Israel must protect the 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.”

With the 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. 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 spokesperson Tal Heinrich told journalists on Wednesday. “This was a pilot to prevent Hamas from taking over the aid as they often do.”

Air-dropped aid

The U.S., Jordan and others have conducted airdrops of aid in Gaza. 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 stressed there is no substitute for land access.

A plane is seen delivering aid to Gaza, via parachute-laden aid packages.
An airplane drops aid over Gaza, as seen from Israel on Wednesday. (Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters)

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, Gaza health authorities say.

Violence has since 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 boy 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. 

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