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Tuesday 30 September 2014

Children and baby among 15 dead as UN-run school shelled in Gaza

Published 24/07/2014 | 14:24

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At least 15 people have been killed, including a baby, after an Israeli shell struck a UN-run school in northern Gaza.

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The Palestinian death toll in the conflict has now climbed over 750 and attempts at a truce remained elusive.

An Israeli woman soldier sits on an Army Armoured Personnel Carrier (APC) in a deployment area on July 24, 2014 on Israel's border with the Gaza Strip. Washington's top diplomat said global efforts to end 17 days of bloodshed in Gaza were progressing as the Palestinian death toll rose to 714 and airlines kept flights to Israel suspended over rocket fears.  (Photo by Lior Mizrahi/Getty Images)
An Israeli woman soldier sits on an Army Armoured Personnel Carrier (APC) in a deployment area on July 24, 2014 on Israel's border with the Gaza Strip. Washington's top diplomat said global efforts to end 17 days of bloodshed in Gaza were progressing as the Palestinian death toll rose to 714 and airlines kept flights to Israel suspended over rocket fears. (Photo by Lior Mizrahi/Getty Images)

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed his horror at the attack on the school at Beit Hanoun in the northern Gaza strip. "Many have been killed - including women and children, as well as U.N. staff," he said in a statement. "Circumstances are still unclear. I strongly condemn this act."

The Israeli military said its troops were fighting gunmen from Hamas, which runs Gaza, in the area and that it was investigating the incident. A spokesman for the U.N. relief agency said it had tried in vain to arrange an evacuation of civilians from the school with the Israeli army, and noted reports of Hamas rockets falling in the area at the same time.

A Palestinian relative holds the body of a two-year-old girl, who medics said was killed by an Israeli tank shell, at the morgue in Beit Lahiya. Photo credit: REUTERS/Finbarr O'Reilly
A Palestinian relative holds the body of a two-year-old girl, who medics said was killed by an Israeli tank shell, at the morgue in Beit Lahiya. Photo credit: REUTERS/Finbarr O'Reilly

Pools of blood lay on the ground and on students' desks in the courtyard of the school near the apparent impact mark of the shell, according to a Reuters photographer at the scene.

Scores of crying families who had been living in the school ran with their children to a hospital where the victims were being treated a few hundred metres away. Laila Al-Shinbari, a woman who was at the school when it was shelled, told Reuters that families had gathered in the courtyard expecting to be evacuated shortly in a Red Cross convoy.

"All of us sat in one place when suddenly four shells landed on our heads ... Bodies were on the ground, (there was) blood and screams. My son is dead and all my relatives are wounded including my other kids," she wept.

A Palestinian man holds a girl, whom medics said was injured in an Israeli shelling at a U.N-run school sheltering Palestinian refugees, at a hospital in the northern Gaza Strip. Reuters/Finbarr O'Reilly
Smoke from an Israeli strike rises over Gaza City, Thursday, July 24, 2014. Israeli tanks and warplanes bombarded the Gaza Strip on Thursday, as Hamas militants stuck to their demand for the lifting of an Israeli and Egyptian blockade in the face of U.S. efforts to reach a cease-fire. (AP Photo/Adel Hana)
A Palestinian reacts following what witnesses said was an Israeli air strike on a building in Gaza City July 24, 2014. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem

Ashraf al-Qidra, spokesman for the Gaza Health Ministry, said that as well as the 15 dead, another 200 people had been wounded in the attack. The director of a local hospital said various medical centres around Beit Hanoun were receiving the wounded.

UNIMAGINABLE PRICE

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 U.N. Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). Israeli forces are trying to stop militants from Hamas and their allies from firing rockets into its territory.

Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal talks during a news conference in Doha July 23, 2014. Meshaal said he was ready to accept a humanitarian truce in Gaza where the Islamist group is fighting an Israeli military offensive, but would not agree to a full ceasefire until the terms had been negotiated. REUTERS/Stringer (QATAR - Tags: POLITICS CIVIL UNREST CONFLICT)
Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal talks during a news conference in Doha. Meshaal said he was ready to accept a humanitarian truce in Gaza where the Islamist group is fighting an Israeli military offensive, but would not agree to a full ceasefire until the terms had been negotiated. Reuters

"It's clear that civilians are paying an unimaginable price caught between both sides," said UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness. "There are reports of Hamas rockets falling around Beit Hanoun at the same time. We were attempting to arrange a window for evacuation for the civilians with the Israeli army that never came. The consequences were deeply tragic."

Britain called on Gaza's rulers to accept a truce unconditionally. "Hamas must agree to a humanitarian ceasefire without pre-conditions," Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond told a news conference in Cairo as Egypt tries to mediate.

Palestinians flee during a two hour temporary ceasefire in Gaza City's Shijaiyah neighborhood, Wednesday, July 23, 2014. sraeli troops battled Hamas militants on Wednesday near a southern Gaza Strip town as the top U.S. diplomat reported progress in efforts to end fighting that has so far killed more than 600 Palestinians and more than 30 Israelis. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)
Palestinians flee during a two hour temporary ceasefire in Gaza City's Shijaiyah neighborhood. AP

"Then... the Palestine Authority (and) Israel would come together for discussions to ensure a lasting and sustainable peace in Gaza so that we do not repeat this cycle of violence."

Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal said on Wednesday 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 next-door Egypt to open up its border with Gaza too.

People hold a banner next to sheets stained in red paint, mimicking blood, depicting the children, who medics said were killed by a shell fired by an Israeli naval gunboat, on a beach in Gaza City during a protest against Israel's military action in Gaza, at La Constitucion square in Malaga, southern Spain. Israel pounded targets across the Gaza Strip on Tuesday, saying no ceasefire was near as top U.S. and United Nations diplomats pursued talks on halting the fighting that has claimed more than 600 lives. The banner reads, "Israel kills. The international community is silent". Photo credit: REUTERS/Jon Nazca
People hold a banner next to sheets stained in red paint, mimicking blood, depicting the children, who medics said were killed by a shell fired by an Israeli naval gunboat, on a beach in Gaza City during a protest against Israel's military action in Gaza, at La Constitucion square in Malaga, southern Spain. Israel pounded targets across the Gaza Strip on Tuesday, saying no ceasefire was near as top U.S. and United Nations diplomats pursued talks on halting the fighting that has claimed more than 600 lives. The banner reads, "Israel kills. The international community is silent". Photo credit: REUTERS/Jon Nazca

The Palestinian death toll in Gaza reached 755 on Thursday, officials said. Israel has lost at least 32 soldiers in clashes inside Gaza and with Hamas raiders who have slipped across the fortified frontier in tunnels.

Palestinian rockets and mortar bombs have also killed three civilians in Israel. 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.

TRUCE EFFORTS

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.

One Cairo official said on Wednesday it could take effect by the weekend, in time for the Eid al-Fitr festival next Monday or Tuesday, Islam's biggest annual celebration at the end of the fasting month of Ramadan.

But a US official described any truce by the weekend as unlikely, as did an Israeli security cabinet minister who said the army would need one to two weeks to complete its main mission of razing tunnels used by Hamas for cross-border raids.

"If the talk is of a humanitarian hiatus for - this is not pleasant to say - removing bodies, all kinds of things that are connected to the civilian population in the short-term, this might be weighed," the minister, Gilad Erdan, told Israel Radio.

"But I will oppose any ceasefire until it is clear both that the tunnels will be destroyed and what will happen in the post-ceasefire period - how we will guarantee that quiet for the residents of Israel will really be preserved in the long-term."

Israel earlier won a partial reprieve from the economic damage of the war with the lifting of a U.S. ban on commercial flights to Tel Aviv.

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 U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to bar American flights there.

An ensuing wave of cancellations by foreign airlines sharply reduced traffic at Israel's usually bustling international gateway at the height of the summer tourist season. It was hailed as a victory by Hamas and prompted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to appeal to the Obama administration to intervene.

The FAA cancelled the ban late on Wednesday after reviewing the security situation. The European Air Safety Agency (EASA) said on Thursday it was about to follow suit and lift its own recommendation to avoid flying to Tel Aviv.

US Airways, a unit of American Airlines Group Inc, said it was resuming its non-stop Tel Aviv to Philadelphia service. Germany's Lufthansa said its suspension of flights to Tel Aviv would continue to Friday.

Gaza militants continued to fire rockets at Israel on Thursday, sending thousands in the country's south racing to shelters or safe rooms. There were no reported casualties.

U.N. COUNCIL INQUIRY

U.N. 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 U.N. Human Rights Council said it would launch an international inquiry into alleged violations.

A furious 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.

Ban, who has also been on a truce-seeking mission, lashed out earlier at Gaza militants, expressing "outrage and regret" that rockets had been found inside a U.N. school for refugees for the second time during the conflict.

He said storing rockets there "turned schools into potentially military targets, endangering the lives of innocent children", along with U.N. employees and the tens of thousands of sheltering Palestinians. He urged an investigation.

Gaza has been rocked by regular bouts of violence since Israel unilaterally pulled out of the territory in 2005.

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