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Israel shells UN Gaza headquarters

ISRAEL shelled the United Nations headquarters in the Gaza Strip yesterday, injuring at least three people, engulfing the compound and a warehouse in fire and destroying supplies of food and humanitarian aid intended for Palestinian refugees.

UN workers and Palestinian firefighters, some wearing bulletproof jackets, struggled to douse the flames and pull bags of food aid from the debris after the Israeli attack, which was another blow to efforts to ease the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. Dense clouds of smoke billowed from the compound.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who is in the region trying to end the devastating offensive against Gaza's Hamas rulers, demanded a "full explanation" and said the Israeli defense minister told him there had been a "grave mistake."

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said the military fired shells at the UN compound after Hamas militants opened fire from the location.

"It is absolutely true that we were attacked from that place, but the consequences are very sad and we apologize for it," he said. "I don't think it should have happened and I'm very sorry."

A senior Israeli military officer had also said Israeli troops shelled the compound after coming under fire from Palestinian militants there - an account dismissed by a UN official there at the time as "nonsense."

Yesterday Israel's ground forces thrust deep into a crowded neighborhood for the first time, sending terrified residents fleeing for cover. Shells also struck a hospital, five highrise apartment buildings and a building housing media outlets in Gaza City, injuring several journalists.

Some 1,100 Palestinians have been killed since Israel attacked Gaza, roughly half of them civilians, according to the UN. Gaza health official Dr Moaiya Hassanain said at least 50 people were killed yesterday.

Thirteen Israelis have been killed since the campaign began.

Israeli shells first hit the courtyard of the UN compound, where up to 700 refugees were sheltering, then struck the UN's main warehouse.

"It's a total disaster," John Ging, UN Relief and Works Agency director said. Officials say they have given Israel GPS coordinates of all UN installations to prevent attacks.


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