Three Israeli troops were killed and another fifteen where wounded on Wednesday by explosions inside a booby-trapped health clinic operated by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), an incident that seems set to fuel a growing debate over the degree to which the UN organization has been complicit in the militarization of the Gaza Strip’s civilian infrastructure:
Three IDF soldiers were killed Wednesday morning in Gaza in an explosion at a booby-trapped UNRWA health clinic that housed a tunnel entry shaft, the IDF’s Gaza Division commander, Brig. Gen. Micky Edelstein, said in a briefing.
After describing certain precautionary measures, Edelstein said, “And then we enter with our people, and they [the militants], from the very same terror tunnel, they blow up half the clinic on our troops.”
“They blow [up] the UNRWA clinic on our troops.”
The elite soldiers were working to destroy a Hamas tunnel that opened into the clinic – a task that was considered particularly sensitive in light of its status as an UNRWA structure – when the explosives detonated, bringing part of the building down on top of them.
Middle East observers were quick to question how the “opening of a Hamas tunnel… which takes months to dig and is not discrete” was created near an UNRWA facility. The organization has generated significant criticism in recent weeks, amid revelations that at least three of its schools were used as rocket storehouses.
Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Tzachi Hanegbi blasted UNRWA today for returning those rockets to Hamas – and thereby “endangering and jeopardizing Israeli lives” – even as its officials lashed out against Israel over tactics in Operation Protective Edge.
Other schools have been used as cover for rocket launches. Hamas officials had earlier in the day accused Israel of shelling an UNRWA school and killing 15 Palestinians.
The issue came up at the State Department’s daily press briefing Wednesday, part of a particularly tense extended exchange. Journalists pressed State Department Deputy Spokesperson Marie Harf for a reaction to how “the Israelis have kind of implied, if not said so explicitly sometimes, that particularly UNRWA is in cahoots with Hamas in some way, providing them shelter, allowing them to hide their rockets.”
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