WASHINGTON: The White House has condemned Wednesday’s deadly shelling of a UN shelter in southern Gaza, reiterating its position that Israel has a “responsibility to protect civilians” as it prosecutes its war with Hamas group.

The Gaza director of the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) said earlier Wednesday that two tank shells had hit a building sheltering 800 people in the city of Khan Yunis, with reports that nine people had died and 75 more were injured.

“We are gravely concerned by reports today of strikes hitting a UNRWA facility – with subsequent reports of fires in the building – in a neighborhood in southern Gaza where more than 30,000 displaced Palestinians had reportedly been sheltering,” a spokesperson for the White House’s National Security Council, Adrienne Watson, said in a statement.

She called the loss of innocent life a tragedy and deaths and injury of children during the three-month war “heartbreaking.”

While the United States remains unwavering in its support for Israel to defend itself against “Hamas who hide among the civilian population,” Watson said, “Israel retains a responsibility to protect civilians, including, humanitarian personnel and sites.”

Tank shelling kills 9 at UN shelter in south Gaza: UN official

The NSC official also stressed that President Joe Biden remained committed to “working to increase life-saving humanitarian assistance into Gaza and to bring home all of the hostages held there.”

The State Department also deplored the attacks on the UN facility and stressed that humanitarian workers must be protected so that they can keep providing lifesaving assistance to civilians.

The Israeli army said Tuesday it had “encircled” Khan Yunis, Gaza’s main southern city which has become the epicenter of recent fighting.

The attack on the shelter in southern Gaza’s biggest city sparked international condemnation, while the United Nations slammed a “blatant disregard” for the rules of war.

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