15 killed in shelling of Gaza school run by UN

Israel claims rocket attacks came from area and it targeted ‘source of fire’

A Palestinian man holds a girl medics said was injured in the  Israeli shelling of a UN-run school sheltering refugees, at a hospital in the Gaza Strip yesterday. Photograph: Finbarr O’Reilly/Reuters

A Palestinian man holds a girl medics said was injured in the Israeli shelling of a UN-run school sheltering refugees, at a hospital in the Gaza Strip yesterday. Photograph: Finbarr O’Reilly/Reuters

Fri, Jul 25, 2014, 01:00

At least 15 people were killed and dozens wounded when two mortar shells hit a school yesterday in the northern Gaza Strip run by Unrwa, the United Nations aid agency.

Hundreds of Palestinians were in the school in Beit Hanoun, seeking shelter from heavy fighting in the area.

Palestinians blamed Israel but the Israeli army last night said it was investigating and had still not determined if the shells were fired by Israeli forces or Palestinian militants.

The Israeli military later said rocket attacks had been coming from the area and that the Israeli army had “responded by targeting the source of the fire”.

UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon condemned the attack and again demanded that Israel and Hamas respect “the sanctity of civilian life and the inviolability of UN premises”.

A spokeswoman for US secretary of state John Kerry said the incident “underscores the need” for a ceasefire.

Yesterday’s incident marks the fourth time that a UN facility has been hit during Operation Protective Edge, now in its 18th day.

Co-ordinates

UNRWA handed co-ordinates of its schools to the Israeli army after opening its compounds to residents seeking a safe haven from the fighting. More than 140,000 Gazans have fled their homes so far.

In a separate incident yesterday, a family of six, including a five-year-old girl and a boy of three, were among 30 people killed in Israeli air strikes.

Some 780 Palestinians have now been killed in the fighting. Thirty-two Israeli soldiers and three civilians have also been killed.

Egyptian troops yesterday shot and killed a militant wearing an explosive vest who was on his way from Egyptian territory to commit a suicide bombing at the Kerem Shalom border crossing with Israel.

The Israeli army claimed that 150 Palestinians – most of them Hamas operatives – surrendered to Israeli troops in the southern town of Rafah, in an unprecedented move.

Militant rocket fire at Israel continued yesterday but the daily tally of projectiles fired was the lowest so far.

As the violence raged, Mr Kerry returned Cairo for the second time in 48 hours to continue efforts to clinch a ceasefire. The sides are talking about a five-day humanitarian truce, during which talks would take place aimed at implementing a wider ceasefire which would include elements demanded by Hamas to end the economic blockade on Gaza.

Mr Kerry has put the onus on Hamas to accept an Egyptian plan. He spoke by phone to the foreign ministers of Qatar and Turkey, hoping both countries would use their influence to encourage Hamas to accept the ceasefire.

Blockade

Khaled Meshaal, the Hamas political chief, who is based in Qatar, said Hamas would reject any plan that keeps the blockade intact.

“We will not accept any initiative that does not lift the blockade on our people and that does not respect their sacrifices,” he said.

Hamas’s rejection of a ceasefire suits the Israeli military which says it needs more time to destroy Hamas offensive tunnels. Thirty-one tunnels have been uncovered but only 11 have been destroyed.

Britain’s new foreign secretary Philip Hammond, at a news conference with Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu, expressed Britain’s support for Israel’s right to self-defence, adding that the current fighting was caused by Hamas firing rockets “indiscriminately” at Israeli towns and cities. “But we are gravely concerned by the ongoing heavy level of civilian causalities,” he said.

Mr Netanyahu, who compared Israel under rocket fire with London during the Blitz, said Israel was doing everything it could to minimise casualties, pinning the blame on Hamas for using civilians as “human shields”.