At least 15 people were killed and 200 wounded Thursday after Israeli forces shelled a UN-run school being used as a shelter in the northern Gaza Strip, the Gaza health ministry said.
Without citing a source, Israel Radio said that most of those killed at the United Nations school were children.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he was “appalled” by the attack.
“Circumstances are still unclear. I strongly condemn this act,” Ban said in a statement. “Many have been killed - including women and children, as well as UN staff.”
Ashraf al-Qidra, a spokesman for the Gaza health ministry, said that in addition to the 15 dead, another 200 people were wounded in the attack. The director of a local hospital said various medical centres around Beit Hanoun in the coastal enclave were receiving the wounded.
Pools of blood lay on the ground and on students’ desks in the courtyard of the school near the apparent impact mark of a shell.
Hamas has been known to use schools and hospitals as weapons storage facilities, a practice that has drawn strong criticism from the United Nations.
UN chief Ban, who has also been on a truce-seeking mission to the region this week, lashed out at Gaza militants, expressing “outrage and regret” that rockets had been found recently inside another UN school for refugees for the second time during the conflict.
Ban said storing rockets there “turned schools into potentially military targets, endangering the lives of innocent children”, along with UN employees and tens of thousands of Palestinians seeking shelter.
He urged an investigation into the practice.
Gaza correspondent: "They were trying to gather students in the courtyard to evacuate when a shell squarely hit the building."
The director of a local hospital said various medical centres around Beit Hanoun were receiving the wounded.
“Such a massacre requires more than one hospital to deal with it,” said Ayman Hamdan, director of the Beit Hanoun Hospital.
More than 140,000 Palestinians have fled 17 days of fighting between Israel and Gaza militants, many of them seeking shelter in buildings run by the UN Refugee Works Agency. Israeli forces are trying to stop militants from Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, and their allies from firing rockets into its territory.
Palestinians said residents of two southern villages were trapped by days of tank shelling, with medics unable to evacuate the wounded. Hamas fired rockets at Tel Aviv and said its gunmen carried out a lethal ambush on Israeli soldiers in north Gaza.
With Washington’s encouragement, and the involvement of Turkey and Hamas ally Qatar, Egypt has been trying to broker a limited humanitarian ceasefire for the battered enclave.
Following the attack on the school, the death toll in Gaza approached 750 on Thursday. Israeli tank fire and pre-dawn assaults killed 35 people, including an 18-month-old baby and six members of the same family, Palestinian officials said.
Ban Ki Moon: "I am shocked and appalled."
Israel has lost 33 soldiers in clashes inside Gaza and with Hamas militants who have slipped across the fortified frontier via tunnels.
Palestinian rockets and mortar bombs have killed three civilians, two Israelis and a Thai worker. Such attacks surged last month as Israel cracked down on Hamas in the occupied West Bank, triggering the July 8 air and sea barrage on the Gaza Strip that escalated into an invasion a week ago.
Though Israel’s Iron Dome rocket interceptor has shot down most of the rockets fired from Gaza, one that came close to Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport on Tuesday prompted the US Federal Aviation Administration and European agencies to halt flights temporarily.
Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal said on Wednesday that his fighters had made gains against Israel and voiced support for a humanitarian truce, but only if Israel eased restrictions on Gaza’s 1.8 million people. Hamas wants Egypt to open up its border with Gaza too.
"Let's agree first on the demands and on implementing them, and then we can agree on the zero hour for a ceasefire," Meshaal said. "We will not accept any proposal that does not lift the blockade ... We do not desire war and we do not want it to continue, but we will not be broken by it."
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said on Wednesday that there was “a strong possibility” that Israel was committing war crimes in Gaza, where medical officials say most of those killed were civilians.
Pillay also condemned indiscriminate Islamist rocket fire out of Gaza, and the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) said it would launch an international inquiry into alleged violations.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu denounced the inquiry as a “travesty”.
“The HRC should be launching an investigation into Hamas’s decision to turn hospitals into military command centres, use schools as weapons depots and place missile batteries next to playgrounds, private homes and mosques,” he said.
US Secretary of State John Kerry returned to Egypt on Wednesday after seeing Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the occupied West Bank and Ban and Netanyahu in Jerusalem.
“We have certainly made some steps forward. There is still work to be done,” said Kerry, on one of his busiest regional visits since Netanyahu called off US-sponsored peace talks over Abbas’s power-sharing deal with Hamas in April.
The armed wing of Hamas, which rejects Israel’s right to exist and is considered a terrorist organisation by many Western nations, rejected Egypt’s proposal for an unconditional truce, saying its terms had to be met in full for any end to the conflict.
Israel voted to accept the terms of the truce.
(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS)
Date created : 2014-07-24