Gaza blame game after 15 die in shelling of school as death toll in Israeli offensive hits 750
Israeli forces shelled a UN-run school sheltering Palestinians in the northern Gaza strip, killing at least 15 people and raising the conflict's death toll to almost 750.
Most of the dead were said to be children. The shelling lead to a round of bitter recriminations between Israel and the United Nation last night.
The tank shells exploded inside a Gaza school crowded with Palestinian refugees, killing at least 15 people.
The bombardment, in the town of Beit Hanoun, was the first time that Palestinians sheltering in UN facilities have been killed since Israel's offensive began.
The incident coincided with Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister, comparing Israel's experience of rocket fire from Hamas to the Blitz.
"There's only been one other instance where a democracy has been rocketed and pelleted with these projectiles of death, and that's Britain during World War Two," he said." "Israel is undergoing a similar bombardment now."
The UN school, packed with hundreds of Palestinians, came under fire yesterday afternoon. Beit Hanoun is an area where Israeli troops and tanks have been fighting Hamas gunmen for eight days.
Palestinian officials said that Israeli tanks shells hit the school. But the UN did not say who was responsible.
Major Arye Shalicar, of the Israel Defence Forces (IDF), called the incident a "tragedy", adding:"We cannot confirm if this tragedy took place because of our answer to the terrorists who targeted us in this area – or from Hamas fire." But Chris Gunness, the spokesman for the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), stressed that "precise coordinates of the UNRWA shelter had been formally given to the Israeli army". He said the agency had tried to "coordinate a window for civilians to leave with the Israeli army, but it was never granted".
The IDF disputed this, saying that over the past three days, UNRWA had been asked to evacuate the refugees and a "humanitarian window" had been provided between 10am and 2pm yesterday.
Ban Ki-moon, the UN Secretary-General, said he was "appalled" by the attack and that the dead included UN staff.
The bloodshed brought the Palestinian death toll to 751 since July 8. Israel has lost 32 soldiers and three civilians.
Elsewhere, Israel carried out more air strikes across Gaza, including one on a home in the southern town of Abasan, which killed five people.
At a press conference in Cairo, Mr Hammond called for Hamas to agree an unconditional ceasefire, but told Israeli leaders that Western public opinion was becoming less sympathetic as civilian deaths mounted, a rare public rebuke.
He said the comparison to the Blitz was not one of scale but that "no one has to tolerate their civilians being under attack without having the right to try to defend them".
Khaled Meshaal, the Hamas leader, insisted on an end to the "siege" of Gaza before any ceasefire could be agreed.
Palestinians said residents of two southern villages were trapped by days of tank shelling, with medics unable to evacuate wounded. Hamas fired rockets at Tel Aviv and said its gunmen carried out a lethal ambush on Israeli soldiers in north Gaza.
Israel earlier won a partial reprieve from the economic pain of its Gaza war with the lifting of a US ban on commercial flights to Tel Aviv. 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 (© Daily Telegraph London)