Though it caused a minimal number of direct casualties, the Israeli attack on the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) made headlines across the world and sparked a litany of public condemnations, not the least of which because UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness said the building was attacked with white phosphorus shells, which Israel had previously denied using.
The attack also set the aid warehouse on site ablaze, destroying tons of emergency food and fuel aid intended for the 1.5 million people living in the densely populated warzone making it potentially more injurous to the civilian population than many bloodier attacks. But was the attack just another random hit by an Israeli military responsible for a myriad of attacks on targets that had nothing to do with their overall mission, or a deliberate strike? As with its attack last week on the United Nations girls’ school, the Israeli government is having a little trouble getting its story straight.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice spoke with both Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni after the incident, and says the two were “concerned” about the attack, describing it as “an error that happened.” Yet Prime Minister Ehud Olmert defended the attack almost immediately, and other Israeli defense officials claimed the building, which was full of refugees at the time, was being used by militants to attack the invading soldiers. Which of the two stories Israel decides is the official one remains to be seen.