An Israeli air strike on Sunday killed at least 10 people and wounded some 30 others at a UN-run school in the southern Gaza Strip, witnesses and medics said, prompting UN chief Ban Ki-moon to condemn the school strike as a "criminal act".
The air strike hit the entrance to the school in the town of Rafah, witnesses and medics said. Around 3,000 Palestinians had been sheltering in the facility.
Hours after the attack, the Israeli military confirmed that it had targeted three Islamic Jihad militants on a motorbike in the "vicinity of an UNRWA school in Rafah".
"The IDF (Israel Defense Forces) is reviewing the consequences of this strike," it said.
“The attack is yet another gross violation of international humanitarian law, which clearly requires protection by both parties of Palestinian civilians, UN staff and UN premises, among other civilian facilities,” Ban declared in a statement issued by his spokesperson in New York. “United Nations shelters must be safe zones not combat zones.”
"This madness must stop," Ban said.
The US State Department said it was "appalled" by the latest school shelling, calling it "disgraceful".
"Israel must do more to meet its own standards and avoid civilian casualties," US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.
French President François Hollande called for those responsible for "this violation of international law" to be held accountable, a statement from the Elysée presidential palace said.
UNRWA said on Sunday that since July 20 nine of its staff members have been killed in Gaza.
It was the third time in 10 days that a UN school has been hit in the enclave, including the Israeli shelling four days ago of a school in Jabaliyah that killed 16 people. The UN said it appeared that Israeli artillery had hit the building. The Israeli military said gunmen had fired mortar bombs from near the school and it shot back in response.
Earlier on Sunday Israeli shelling killed at least 30 people in Gaza, a day after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to continue the offensive against Hamas if necessary for Israel's "security needs" after the army completes its core mission of destroying a tunnel network that Hamas uses to stage attacks inside Israel.
Israel skips Cairo truce talks
Efforts to find a new truce resumed on Sunday in Cairo with a delegation from Palestinian militant groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad arriving in the Egyptian capital.
But any breakthrough seemed unlikely in the absence of Israeli representatives. After accusing Hamas of breaching a short-lived US- and UN-brokered ceasefire on Friday, Israel said it would not send envoys to the talks.
"They (Hamas) cannot be trusted to keep their word," Deputy Foreign Minister Tzachi Hanegbi told Israel's Channel Two television on Saturday. "They cannot stop because, for them, a ceasefire at this stage – whether by arrangement or not by arrangement – would mean acknowledging the worst possible defeat."
Israel says it wants Gaza demilitarised under any long-term arrangement. Hamas – sworn to Israel's destruction – demands Israel withdraw its troops and a lifting of Israeli and Egyptian border blockades that have choked Gaza's economy.
Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, a member of Netanyahu's security cabinet, said any agreement on the issue was still far off.
"You want to talk about lifting the blockade? Not with us, and not now," she told the news website Ynet.
Missing soldier presumed dead
Israel has intensified attacks in the area of Rafah along the border with Egypt, where 23-year-old officer Hadar Goldin was feared captured on Friday shortly after the beginning of what was to have been a 72-hour truce.
The military later said Goldin, who was dragged by militants into a tunnel after two of his comrades were killed by a suicide bomber, had also died in action.
"The findings on the ground, the items that we found, led us to the conclusion that he was killed in the initial attack," said Lieutenant-Colonel Peter Lerner, a military spokesman.
Lerner said ground forces were being redeployed in the Gaza Strip, though he gave no details of their new positions, and added that residents from a number of evacuated Palestinian neighbourhoods had been told by the military they could return.
More than 30 tunnels and dozens of access shafts have been unearthed and were being destroyed.
"We have proceeded with the mission in order to eliminate those (tunnels) that we have found and we expect to complete that within a short period of time, probably within the next 24 hours or so," Lerner said.
Israel began its air and naval offensive against Gaza on July 8 following a surge of cross-border rocket salvoes by Hamas and other guerrillas. A ground offensive to search for tunnels was launched on July 17.
The fighting on Sunday pushed the Gaza death toll given by Palestinian officials to 1,726, most of them civilians. Israel has confirmed that 64 soldiers have died in combat, while Palestinian rockets have also killed three civilians inside Israel.
The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights said 520,000 people had been displaced by the fighting, more than a quarter of Gaza's population.
Britain believes the situation in the Gaza Strip has become "simply intolerable", said Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond. He told the Daily Telegraph he was receiving thousands of emails from Britons "deeply disturbed" at the events in Gaza.
(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS and AFP)
On the streets of Tel Aviv, a march against the war in Gaza.
Date created : 2014-08-03