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U.S. 'gravely concerned' after reports of mass casualties in Israeli raids

Smoke billows over Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip during an Israeli bombardment on Wednesday. Israel Defense Forces are reported to have inflicted "mass casualties" in the region while targeting terrorists activities. Photo by Ismael Mohamad/UPI
Smoke billows over Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip during an Israeli bombardment on Wednesday. Israel Defense Forces are reported to have inflicted "mass casualties" in the region while targeting terrorists activities. Photo by Ismael Mohamad/UPI

Jan. 24 (UPI) -- White House officials expressed their concern about a potentially significant civilian death toll after a U.N. facility reportedly was struck by Israeli forces in southern Gaza Wednesday.

"We are gravely concerned by reports today of strikes hitting a U.N. Relief and Works Agency 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," National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson said in a prepared statement Wednesday.

"While we don't yet have all the details on what happened and will continue to seek further information regarding today's incidents, the loss of every innocent life is a tragedy," Adrienne said. "This conflict has already resulted in the devastating deaths and injuries of tens of thousands of Palestinian civilians, and we mourn every single civilian life that has been lost. It's heartbreaking to see children killed, injured, and orphaned."

The statement from the White House came after a U.N. official said earlier in the day that Israel Defense Forces had inflicted "mass casualties" in Khan Younis in southern Gaza.

The deaths occurred at a U.N. Relief and Works Agency shelter while Israel was conducting military operations against Hamas, according to Thomas White, the director of UNRWA Affairs in Gaza.

Smoke billows over Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip during an Israeli bombardment on Wednesday. U.S. National Security Council spokesman John Kirby on Wednesday said IDF forces are adjusting their combat operations in Gaza to what he called "low-intensity" operations. Photo by Ismael Mohamad/UPI
Smoke billows over Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip during an Israeli bombardment on Wednesday. U.S. National Security Council spokesman John Kirby on Wednesday said IDF forces are adjusting their combat operations in Gaza to what he called "low-intensity" operations. Photo by Ismael Mohamad/UPI

"Fighting is escalating in Khan Younis -- the UNRWA Training Centre sheltering 10Ks of displaced people has just been hit -- buildings ablaze and mass casualties -- safe access to/from the centre has been denied for 2 days -- people are trapped," White posted on X Wednesday.

NSC spokesperson John Kirby earlier on Wednesday said he didn't have enough initial info to comment on the reported attacks. But he said Israel is transiting its military operations against Hamas while undertaking more-targeted operations.

Palestinians search for victims at the site of an Israeli air strike on a mosque in Rafah in the southern region of Gaza on Wednesday. The IDF said it undertook Wednesday's efforts to "eliminate terrorists" throughout Gaza. Photo by Ismael Mohamad/UPI
Palestinians search for victims at the site of an Israeli air strike on a mosque in Rafah in the southern region of Gaza on Wednesday. The IDF said it undertook Wednesday's efforts to "eliminate terrorists" throughout Gaza. Photo by Ismael Mohamad/UPI

"Low-intensity operations doesn't mean no-intensity operations," Kirby said at a White House press briefing on Wednesday.

"They have removed a division of troops," Kirby said. "That's a lot of troops. That's thousands of troops. And they are pursuing, on the ground, more targeted operations against - particularly against the leadership. They are relying less ... on airstrikes."

Palestinians sift through rubble while searching for victims and survivors at a mosque in Rafah following an Israeli air strike in the southern Gaza Strip on Wednesday. The IDF says it targeted terrorist activities in the region. Photo by Ismael Mohamad/UPI
Palestinians sift through rubble while searching for victims and survivors at a mosque in Rafah following an Israeli air strike in the southern Gaza Strip on Wednesday. The IDF says it targeted terrorist activities in the region. Photo by Ismael Mohamad/UPI

The IDF said its military action was intended to eliminate terrorist cells operating in Gaza and include infantry, as well as armored and aerial forces.

Regarding those actions, the IDF posted on X that its operations affected "numerous" militant strongholds.

Palestinians mourn the deaths of relatives who were killed in an Israeli bombing in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on Wednesday. A UN official said the attacks inflicted "mass casualties." Photo by Ismael Mohamad/UPI
Palestinians mourn the deaths of relatives who were killed in an Israeli bombing in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on Wednesday. A UN official said the attacks inflicted "mass casualties." Photo by Ismael Mohamad/UPI

"Troops have eliminated numerous terrorist cells with sniper, tank and aerial fire, including on cell planning to carry out anti-tank fire on forces. Troops also conducted targeted operational activities in the area, locating weapons, engaging in combat and eliminating terrorists."

Israel's military operations in Gaza on Wednesday included eliminating an "armed enemy observer" planning to fire upon Israeli forces in central Gaza and eliminating "numerous terrorists" with aerial attacks in northern Gaza, the IDF posted on X.

Relatives of the Palestinians killed in Israeli attacks mourn over dead bodies following an Israeli strike in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip that reportedly inflicted "mass casualties" on Wednesday. The air strikes were part of an IDF effort to "eliminate terrorists" operating in southern Gaza. Photo by Ismael Mohamad/UPI
Relatives of the Palestinians killed in Israeli attacks mourn over dead bodies following an Israeli strike in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip that reportedly inflicted "mass casualties" on Wednesday. The air strikes were part of an IDF effort to "eliminate terrorists" operating in southern Gaza. Photo by Ismael Mohamad/UPI

The ongoing Israeli military actions in Gaza are in response to the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel that killed an estimated 1,200 people.

Hamas militants kidnapped about 250 people during the initial attack, including some who were citizens of the United States. Hamas since has released 110 hostages and said many others have died.

An Israeli fighter jet flies above Rafah in southern Gaza, where airstrikes and ground forces reportedly inflicted "mass casualties" while targeting "terrorists" on Wednesday. Photo by Ismael Mohamad/UPI
An Israeli fighter jet flies above Rafah in southern Gaza, where airstrikes and ground forces reportedly inflicted "mass casualties" while targeting "terrorists" on Wednesday. Photo by Ismael Mohamad/UPI