Palestinian children who fled what medics said was Israeli
shelling that hit a UN-run school sheltering Palestinian
refugees, sit in shock at a hospital in Beit Hanoun in the
northern Gaza Strip. REUTERS/Finbarr O'Reilly
Gazan authorities say Israeli forces have shelled a
shelter at a UN-run school, killing at least 15 people as the
Palestinian death toll in the conflict climbed over 750 and
attempts at a truce remained elusive.
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 UN 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 UN 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
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.
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
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
"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
"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
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.
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.
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 U.S. 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
"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
"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
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
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
Gaza has been rocked by regular bouts of violence since
Israel unilaterally pulled out of the territory in 2005.