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Thursday, 8 January 2009

UN agency halts operations in Gaza

A UN agency has halted operations in Gaza after a deadly strike on an aid convoy that prompted UN chief to issue his second call for an Israeli investigation.

"Operations will remain suspended until Israeli authorities can guarantee the safety and security of our staff," said Christopher Gunness, a spokesman for the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) that had been distributing food aid to about half of Gaza's 1.5 million population.

The decision came after one man was killed and two others were wounded when a UN-flagged convoy of trucks was hit by two tank shells en route to the border with Israel to pick up humanitarian assistance.The Israeli military said it was investigating the incident.

Later two UN armoured vehicles that escorted an ambulance to recover the body of a local staff member in Gaza City came under small arms fire during the daily three-hour humanitarian lull Israel has declared in its Gaza offensive, a UN official said.

"The secretary-general condemns the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) firing on a United Nations aid convoy in Gaza," a spokesman for Ban Ki-Moon said in a statement.

Ban, who plans to travel to the region next week to push for an end to the Gaza offensive, had already called for a probe of Israeli strikes on UN-run schools on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) on Thursday accused Israel of failing to help wounded people in one area after rescuers found four small children too weak to stand up and huddling next to their dead mothers.

It said Israeli soldiers tried to force the rescuers to leave when they finally reached the wounded in Gaza City's shell-blasted Zeitun neighbourhood on Wednesday, four days after safe passage had been requested.

"This is a shocking incident," said Pierre Wettach, who heads the ICRC's delegation for Israel and the Palestinian territories.

"The Israeli military must have been aware of the situation but did not assist the wounded."

The ICRC said that more wounded people are sheltering in destroyed houses. Link