In its war on Gaza to root out terror Israel's military forces have not spared humanitarian relief groups, targeting their convoy trucks that deliver aid to besieged Palestinians in Gaza on Thursday thereby bringing the work of humanitarian relief groups in the Strip to a halt.
The main U.N. agency operating in the Gaza Strip suspended operations in the embattled Palestinian territory on Thursday after a U.N.-flagged convoy was hit by tank shells, killing one person, a spokesman said.
"UNRWA has suspended its operations in Gaza," said Chris Gunness, a spokesman for the U.N. Relief and Works Agency that had been distributing food aid to about half of Gaza's 1.5 million population," Gunness told AFP.
"Operations will remain suspended until Israeli authorities can guarantee the safety and security of our staff," he said.
At least one Palestinian has been killed after a UN relief agency convoy came under fire from Israeli forces in the Gaza Strip, officials say.
The attack took place on Thursday as trucks travelled to the Erez crossing to pick up supplies to deliver during a three-hour ceasefire scheduled for 1pm (11:00 GMT) to 4pm (14:00 GMT).
John Ging, the head of the UN relief agency in Gaza, said that the casualties were Palestinian civilian contractors hired to transport supplies from the crossing points.
"They were always co-ordinating their trips with the Israelis. Yet found themselves being fired at from the ground troops," he told Al Arabiya TV.
ICRC witnesses "shocking incident"
Also on Thursday, International Committee of the Red Cross in unusually strong terms accused Israel of breaching international humanitarian law after ICRC relief workers found four starving children sitting next to their dead mothers and other corpses in a house in a part of Gaza City bombed by Israeli forces.
The ICRC accused Israel of delaying ambulance access to the hit area and demanded that it grants safe access for Palestinian Red Crescent ambulances to return to evacuate more wounded.
Palestinian Red Crescent ambulances and ICRC officials managed to reach several houses in the Zeitoun area of Gaza City on Wednesday after seeking access from Israeli military forces since last weekend, the ICRC statement said.
"This is a shocking incident," said Pierre Wettach, ICRC chief for Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories.
"The Israeli military must have been aware of the situation but did not assist the wounded. Neither did they make it possible for us or the Palestinian Red Crescent to assist the wounded," he said.
The rescue team "found four small children next to their dead mothers in
one of the houses", the ICRC said.
"They were too weak to stand up on their own. One man was also found alive, too weak to stand up. In all there were at least 12 corpses lying on mattresses," it said.
In another house, the team found 15 survivors of Israeli shelling including several wounded, it said. Three corpses were found in another home. Israeli soldiers posted some 80 meters (yards) away ordered the rescue team to leave the area which they refused to do, it said.
In a written response, the Israeli army said it works in coordination with international aid bodies to assist civilians and that it "in no way intentionally targets civilians."
The army said any serious allegations would need to be investigated properly after a formal complaint was received, "within the constraints of the military operation taking place."
An Israeli offensive launched in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip on Dec. 27 to end rocket attacks by Islamic militants has drawn increasing international criticism over mounting civilian casualties.
In another house, the team found 15 survivors of Israeli shelling including several wounded, ICRC said. Three corpses were found in another home. Israeli soldiers posted some 80 meters (yards) away ordered the rescue team to leave the area which they refused to do, it said.
"The ICRC believes that in this instance the Israeli military failed to meet its obligation under international humanitarian law to care for and evacuated the wounded. It considers the delay in allowing rescue services access unacceptable," it said.