Middle East

Carnage at U.N. school as Israel pounds civilians in Gaza

Palestinians inspect damage to houses adjacent to the fallen minaret of the Al-Sousi Mosque that was destroyed in an Israeli strike, at the Shati refugee camp in Gaza. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)

GAZA CITY / OCCUPIED JERUSALEM: Israeli shelling killed at least 15 Palestinians sheltering in a U.N.-run school and another 17 near a street market Wednesday, Gaza’s Health Ministry said, with no cease-fire in sight after more than three weeks of fighting.

Israel’s security Cabinet decided to continue its offensive in the enclave and there was no sign of a halt to a 23-day conflict in which 1,326 people, mostly civilians, have died.

Some 3,300 Palestinians, including many women and children, were taking refuge in the school in Jabalya refugee camp when it came under fire around dawn, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency said.

“Our initial assessment is that it was Israeli artillery that hit our school,” UNRWA chief Pierre Krahenbuhl said in a statement after representatives of the agency visited the scene and examined fragments, craters and other damage.

Blood-splattered floors and mattresses inside classrooms at the Jabalya Girls Elementary School and survivors picked through shattered glass and debris for flesh and body parts to bury.

“I call on the international community to take deliberate international political action to put an immediate end to the continuing carnage,” Krahenbuhl said.

The Gaza Health Ministry put the number of dead in the school attack at 15, with more than 100 wounded. The United Nations said 16 people were killed in the attack.

An Israeli military spokeswoman said militants had fired mortar bombs from the vicinity of the school and troops shot back in response. The incident was still being reviewed.

The army said three Israeli soldiers were killed Wednesday when a booby-trap bomb exploded in a tunnel shaft they had uncovered in a residence in the southern Gaza Strip.

UNRWA said Tuesday it had found a cache of rockets concealed at another Gaza school – the third such discovery since the conflict began. It condemned unnamed militant groups for putting civilians at risk.

Krahenbuhl said the Jabalya school’s precise location and the fact that it was sheltering thousands of displaced people had been communicated to the Israeli military 17 times, with the last notification just hours before the fatal shelling.U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, speaking in Costa Rica, condemned the killing. “It is outrageous. It is unjustifiable. And it demands accountability and justice,” he said.

The attack was also denounced by the White House in a carefully worded statement which avoided mentioning Israel.

“The United States condemns the shelling of a UNRWA school in Gaza, which reportedly killed and injured innocent Palestinians, including children, and U.N. humanitarian workers,” a statement said.

In Paris, a French presidency statement said President Francois Hollande agreed with Ban’s assessment of the attack as “unjustifiable.”

In a separate incident, Israeli shelling killed at least 17 people and wounded about 160 others near a fruit and vegetable market in Shejaiya, on the eastern outskirts of the city of Gaza, the Health Ministry said.

Israeli Communications Minister Gilad Erdan, a member of the Security Cabinet, said the forum had instructed the military to press on with its campaign to locate and destroy tunnels that militants have built under the Gaza border and have used to launch attacks inside Israel.

“In the coming few days we’ll be giving the IDF (Israel Defense Forces) full operational freedom to strike against terrorism and complete neutralizing and destroying the tunnels,” Erdan told Channel Two.

According to the Gaza Health Ministry, 1,326 Palestinians, mostly civilians, have been killed since Israel began its offensive on July 8 with the declared aim of halting cross-border rocket fire and tackling Hamas’s tunnel network.

Ninety-nine Palestinians were killed Wednesday alone. On the Israeli side, 56 soldiers and three civilians have been killed. Public support remains strong for continuing the military operation in the hope of preventing future flare-ups.

Mohammad Deif, the shadowy leader of Hamas’ armed wing, said in a broadcast message Tuesday that Palestinians would continue confronting Israel until its blockade on Gaza was lifted.

Israel has balked at freeing up Gaza’s borders under any de-escalation deal unless Hamas’ disarmament is also guaranteed. “We are not looking for a cease-fire, though of course military maneuvers are supposed to be followed by diplomatic maneuvers,” Erdan said. “But a cease-fire must fulfil Israel’s terms, a long-term calm and the dimilitarization of Gaza.”

Egypt said Tuesday it was revising an unconditional cease-fire proposal that Israel had originally accepted but Hamas rejected, and that a new offer would be presented to Palestinian representatives.

Egyptian officials said an Israeli delegation had held brief talks in Cairo Wednesday, but gave no further details.

Also Wednesday, Bolivia renounced a visa exemption agreement with Israel in protest over its Gaza offensive, and declared it a terrorist state.

President Evo Morales announced the move during a talk with a group of educators in the city of Cochabamba. It “means, in other words, we are declaring [Israel] a terrorist state,” he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on July 31, 2014, on page 1.




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