30 dead after Israel shells civilian safe-house: witnesses
The United Nations has cited witnesses saying Israeli forces moved about 110 Palestinians into a house, told them to stay inside, and later shelled it repeatedly, killing about 30 people.
The Israeli army said it had no knowledge of such an incident but was investigating.
The UN report said that "according to several testimonies, on January 4, Israeli foot soldiers evacuated approximately 110 Palestinians into a single-residence house in Zeitun (half of whom were children) warning them to stay indoors. Twenty-four hours later, Israeli forces shelled the home repeatedly, killing approximately 30."
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) called the events in the Gaza City neighbourhood "one of the gravest incidents since the beginning of operations" by Israeli forces in Gaza on December 27.
"Those who survived and were able walked two kilometres to Salah Ed Din road before being transported to hospital in civilian vehicles. Three children, the youngest of whom was five months old, died upon arrival at the hospital," OCHA said.
Israeli military spokeswoman Avital Leibovich said: "From initial checking, we don't have knowledge of this incident. We started an inquiry but we still don't know about it."
Rescuers from the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Palestinian Red Crescent Society were only able to reach the area on Wednesday after waiting four days for Israel to allow them safe passage.
The Israel B'Tselem human rights group quoted a resident giving details of the alleged incident over the telephone but stressed it was unable to independently verify the account.
Meysa Fawzi al Samuni, 19, said soldiers forced her and dozens of others to move into the warehouse-like home of another resident.
Two men who left the house to pick up a relative were struck by "a missile or a shell," she said.
"My husband went over to them to help, and then a shell or missile was fired onto the roof of the warehouse. Based on the intensity of the strike, I think it was a missile from an F-16," B'Tselem quoted Ms Samuni, the mother of a small baby, as saying.
"After the smoke and dust cleared a bit, I looked around and saw 20-30 people who were dead, and about 20 who were wounded."
She eventually managed to leave and find an ambulance. "As far as I know, the dead and wounded who were under the ruins are still there," she was quoted as saying.
Aid operations restricted
Israel insists it is doing all it can to avert civilian casualties and protect humanitarian operations but has faced mounting international criticism after dozens of people were killed when troops fired at a school, and at least one person died after an aid convoy was attacked.
The International Committee of the Red Cross is temporarily restricting its Gaza operations to the territory's main city after one person was lightly wounded when one of its vehicles escorting an ambulance convoy was hit, apparently by Israeli forces, an ICRC spokeswoman said.
UNRWA, the main UN agency in Gaza which provides food aid to half the territory's 1.5 million people, said it had suspended its operations after tank shells hit a UN-flagged humanitarian convoy on Thursday, killing at least one person.
On Tuesday, 43 people were killed when an Israeli strike hit an UNRWA school serving as an emergency shelter.
The UN Security Council late on Thursday adopted a resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire leading to a "full withdrawal" of Israeli troops, and condemning "all violence and hostilities directed against civilians and all acts of terrorism."
Palestinian medics said that at least 782 Palestinians have been killed in the two-week offensive which Israel says targets the Hamas rulers of Gaza and aims at halting the daily volleys of rocket fire into Israel.
Maqsood A K Alshams
Asia Pacific Human Rights Institute