Israeli shelling of school new low in litany of horrors, says UN chief
Published 31/07/2014 | 02:30
Even by the standards of human misery that the last 23 days have inflicted on Gaza, this one brought a catalogue of horrors that seemed to dwarf what had gone before.
The bloodshed was bad enough to draw howls of protest from an array of international figures and organisations – including Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations secretary general, the Archbishop of Canterbury and Christian Aid – who voiced despair at the soaring civilian casualties.
July 30 started with the pre-dawn shelling of Abu Hussein school in Jabaliya refugee camp, killing at least 16 of the more than 3,000 displaced people who were using it as a haven. Many of the dead were women and children.
“Nothing is more shameful than attacking sleeping children,” said the UN secretary-general as he pointed out that the precise location of this school had been communicated to the Israeli military authorities 17 times.
As if that were not enough, early evening brought even greater carnage when a missile and several shells struck the crowded Shujaiya market, as people queued up to buy fuel and ice that have become vital commodities as the war-torn territory runs out of electricity.
In between came a multitude of other deadly events that saw the number killed on this day probably surpass that of any other so far.
According to the Gaza health ministry, 106 people lost their lives. The total from three weeks of fighting now exceeds 1,300.
In the southern Gazan town of Khan Younis, seven members of the Abu Amer family died when their home was struck by an Israeli shell, according to Ma'an, a Palestinian news agency.
In late morning, three people were said to have died – including a five-year-old boy – when a missile struck the Jabaliya market.
Two cousins, Jamal and Abdul Jaleel Abu Shediq, both 40, were killed when a tank shell struck their house next to a cemetery in Beit Lahiya. Asked why the house may have been targeted, Nasser Abu Shediq, the brother of Jamal, answered simply: “Because Benjamin Netanyahu (Israel's prime minister) is a foolish man.”
To visit a Gaza hospital yesterday was to witness a scene of panic, hysteria and chaos. An old woman, blood streaming from a leg wound apparently suffered in the Jabaliya market incident, was carried by relations from a battered car to Beit Lahiya's overstretched and under-resourced Kemal Odwan hospital, where staff were still struggling to cope with more than 100 injuries from the early morning school shelling.
The school itself was a scene of devastation, with what was once a classroom that had housed 123 women and children reduced to a pile of rubble after being hit by a shell. At the school gates lay eight dead donkeys, while another two badly injured beasts clung to life.
Bewildered survivors said the school was hit by a barrage of eight shells that struck over a period of three to 15 minutes.
There were tales of people desperately trying to escape the bombardment by going into other rooms, only to be injured by a subsequent attack.
Israel said it had attacked in response to fire that had come from the direction of the school.
“They hit us while we were sleeping,” said a man whose daughter suffered a leg injury in the incident. “Please find us a solution. An UNRWA (the UN Relief and Works Agency) school is supposed to be protecting us. We came here because they told us to leave our homes and we would be safe here.”
At least five women were said to be among the dead, which was also reported to include several children.
The UN condemned the incident and pinned the blame on Israel.
“This morning a UN school sheltering thousands of Palestinian families suffered a reprehensible attack,” Mr Ban said during a visit to Costa Rica. “It is unjustifiable, and demands accountability and justice.”
Pierre Krahenbuhl, the commissioner-general of UNRWA was even more forthright. “Children killed in their sleep; this is an affront to all of us, a source of universal shame. Today the world stands disgraced,” he said.
“We have analysed fragments, examined craters and other damage. Our initial assessment is that it was Israeli artillery that hit our school, in which 3,300 people had sought refuge.”
At Shujaiya market, witnesses described how a missile – believed to have been from a drone – struck a shop where crowds queued up to buy ice.
As people ran to the scene of the strike to help the injured, a second missile – apparently a shell – struck. Five more missiles struck in the next few minutes, causing the number of dead and injured to pile up.
At least one ambulance was struck in the bombardment, while a journalist was said to have died along with 16 others. Up to 200 people were injured.
Panicking residents could be seen carrying their possessions and evacuating the neighbourhood after the incident.
Chaotic scenes ensued at Gaza City's Shifa hospital as relatives came to recover their dead from the morgue and others desperately looked for loved ones they were unsure were dead or alive.
The Israeli army said another three of its soldiers had been killed, bringing the total to 56 since Israel began its ground offensive on July 17.
Bernadette Meehan, the US National Security Council spokesman, said: “We are extremely concerned that thousands of internally displaced Palestinians who have been called on by the Israeli military to evacuate their homes are not safe in UN-designated shelters in Gaza.
“We also condemn those responsible for hiding weapons in United Nations facilities in Gaza.”
Meanwhile, the US has reportedly agreed to resupply Israel with mortars and grenades even as it calls for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza.
The White House agreed to let Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) tap a stockpile of weapons stored by the US military in Israel, according to CNN.
The arms, said to be worth $1bn and known as War Reserves Stock Allies-Israel programme, is intended for use by America in the event of a Middle East war but can also be transferred to Israel.
The stockpile is stored at Israeli military bases across the country. (© Daily Telegraph, London)