Palestinian firefighters try to put out a blaze at the U.N. compound in Gaza City after it was hit in an Israeli bombardment on Thursday. Flames engulfed the compound and a warehouse, destroying thousands of pounds of food and humanitarian supplies intended for Palestinian refugees.
Another high-ranking Hamas official, Interior Minister Said Siyam, was killed on Thursday near Gaza City, according to Israeli and Hamas sources. Israeli leaders faced international criticism after their forces also struck both the United Nations compound and a high-rise in Gaza City where several media organizations are based.
Mr Siyam is one of the most senior Hamas leaders killed in the 20-day Israeli operation in the Gaza Strip.
He became a member of the “collective leadership” of the militant group in 2004 after Sheikh Yassin and Abdel-Aziz Rantissi were assassinated by Israel.
His death came at the end of a day of fierce clashes which also saw the UN compound in Gaza City shelled by Israeli troops.
Unrwa spokesman Christopher Gunness said three of the agency’s employees were hurt in the attack.
About 700 people were sheltering in the compound at the time, he said, and the fire burnt through stocks of food and medicine, approaching five full fuel tanks.
Mr Olmert met UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and apologised for the attack, but said Palestinian fighters had been firing from the UN site.
“It is absolutely true that we were attacked from that place, but the consequences are very sad and we apologise for it,” he said.
“I don’t think it should have happened and I’m very sorry.”
Reuters said an Israeli army spokesman contacted the news agency’s Jerusalem bureau shortly before the explosion to verify the location of its Gaza bureau. Reuters had informed the Israeli army of the exact location at the start of the war and was assured by the Israelis on several occasions that it would not be a target.