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Mideast violence turns personal for U.N.

NEW YORK, March 12 (JTA) — The escalating violence between Israel and the Palestinians has turned very personal for the United Nations. On the night of March 5, Israeli F-16s reportedly bombed and extensively damaged the Al-Nour Rehabilitation Center for the Visually Impaired in Gaza City, a facility run by the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, known as UNRWA. The school was located adjacent to the Gaza police headquarters. Then, on the morning of March 7, the Israelis reportedly dropped bombs for a sixth time on another Palestinian police station, this one not far from three UNRWA-run schools, attended by some 3,100 children. Later that day, Israeli troops reportedly shot and killed a Palestinian UNRWA staff member while he rode in an agency ambulance near Tulkarm, one of five ambulances allegedly hit during the day. The Palestinian man was believed to be the first U.N. employee killed during the 18-month Palestinian intifada. After the near-miss at the schools, UNRWA Commissioner-General Peter Hansen said, "It´s difficult to fathom just what military or strategic purpose is served by bombing it for a sixth time. What is clear is that by bombing a crowded city center at 9 a.m. on a weekday morning, the innocent children at our schools have been severely traumatized." Whether either police station was intentionally built near the schools, or the schools near the police stations, was not addressed. Hansen then denounced the Israel Defense Force for reportedly entering an UNRWA school in the Tulkarm refugee camp and two schools in the Nur es-Shams refugee camp, both in the West Bank, and using them as operational bases. This was days after the IDF had allegedly done something similar while hunting down Palestinian militants in refugee camps in Balata and Jenin. "I am appalled at what appears to be an emerging pattern of IDF tactics that use UNRWA schools as military positions inside camps," Hansen said. U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has urged Israel to investigate. Dozens of Palestinians have reportedly been killed in the refugee camps since Israeli operations began there last week. Responding to Hansen´s charges, an Israeli Foreign Ministry official said, "We respect UNRWA´s humanitarian mission, but we feel they´re not sensitive to the security situation on the ground." "If you want to get to the source of what´s causing obstacles to the UNRWA mission, it´s the Palestinians´ use of refugee camps as bases for terrorist operations, which in turn requires Israel to take certain security measures," the official said. "They´re blaming Israel for responding to terrorism coming out of the refugee camps in the first place. So we think they need to look at it more in the broader context."

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