Gaza school missile strike ‘criminal act’ says UN
Ten killed and at least 30 injured; Israel says it targeted ‘terrorists on a motorbike’
Palestinians carry a wounded man following what witnesses said was an Israeli air strike at a United Nations-run school. REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa
It was, for the 28th day of a war, a very normal scene. Outside the Anas Ibn Malik boys’ preparatory school in the centre of the southern Gaza city of Rafah a group of children were buying sweets and biscuits from local hawkers. Adults were discussing “the situation”. The school caretaker was standing talking to a friend.
Then, some time after 10.30am, something struck the metalled road directly opposite the open gates and exploded, hurling shards of red-hot shrapnel and concrete.
Fatih Firdbari (30) was leaning against a friend’s battered tuk-tuk. “There was a big bang. I felt nothing at first and then I fell down. I looked around and saw people lying on the ground. I saw I was wounded in the calf,” said the farmer, who had fled his land close to the nearby border crossing with Egypt.
Silence and then screaming There was a moment of silence and then screaming, witnesses said. Just inside the school, where more than 3,000 people had been sheltering under the protection of United Nations flags during intense bombardment and clashes in recent days, 20-year-old Mohammed Bahabsa writhed on the ground, hit in the back and arm.
Though wounded himself, the father of seven-year-old Sabir Kershif picked up his unconscious son, who was bleeding from a head wound.
An hour later, the extent of the carnage became clear. As casualties from a second incident elsewhere in Rafah started arriving at the tiny 20-bed Kuwaiti clinic to be treated in a makeshift emergency ward in its car park, relatives began coming to collect their dead. Ten people had been killed and at least 30 injured.
They included Ahmed Abu Harba (13) and Yusef Iskaafia (10) who lived near the school and had been selling biscuits.
Yusef was carried into his home before midday, borne by relatives down the deserted street, wrapped in a white shroud, his pale, unscarred face visible between folds in the white, blood-flecked cloth. He would be buried within hours.
“He was just a normal kid, from a good family. He had no idea what was going on,” a neighbour said.
Quite where the projectile had come from is impossible to say without detailed ballistic analysis. The hole it left, between eight and 10 metres from the school gates, was narrow and deep.
The air strike was the third time in 10 days that a UN school had been hit and came four days after Israeli tank shells hit a school in the northern Gaza town of Jabaliya, killing 16 people. Seven UN facilities have been struck during the conflict.
An Israeli military spokesman said the incident was under review, but “we were targeting terrorists on a motorbike near the school and did identify a successful hit on a motorbike”.
Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary general, condemned a “criminal act and moral outrage”.
Adnan Abu Hasna, a spokesman for the UN Relief and Works Agency in Gaza, said: “It is believed that there was an air strike that hit outside the gate of an UNRWA school, a designated shelter . . . There were multiple dead and injuries inside and outside the school.”
Rafah has been hit hard in recent days. It was near the city, on the Egyptian border, that two Israeli soldiers were killed and one thought captured immediately after a brief truce came into effect on Friday morning. The soldier has now been declared killed in action but the clash, which came as Israeli troops tried to clear one of the cross-border tunnels built by Hamas, prompted some of the heaviest bombing of the conflict so far.
Wilderness of deserted homes
Now the streets are empty except for mounds of uncollected rubbish, shattered glass and dead animals. The 20-mile drive to Rafah from Gaza City traverses a wilderness of deserted homes, burning factories, pockmarked apartment blocks and mosques with gaping holes punched through concrete walls by tank shells.
A lone man waved desperately to flag down one of the few passing cars, but none stopped. Another whipped a donkey to force a last effort from the exhausted beast. Drones were audible overhead and tanks kicked up dust on the low horizon to the east.
Local officials estimated at least 180 people in and around Rafah had been killed since the latest ceasefire collapsed. After one of the most lethal days of the conflict so far, the total for Gaza was more than 1,800, they said. Israeli officials said nearly half of the casualties were combatants from Hamas or other factions. The UN said two- thirds were civilians; local NGOs said four-fifths.
Family of 10 killed In one strike early yesterday
10 members of the al’Ghoul family died when their house down a narrow alley was obliterated. The dead included a newborn child, six children under eight and three adults, Yusuf al’Ghoul, a relative and neighbour, said. “They were sleeping,” he added.
The main hospital in Rafah was evacuated on Friday because of shelling. The two remaining facilities – the Kuwaiti clinic and a small maternity hospital – are overwhelmed. The body of one child was stored in an ice-cream freezer, from lack of mortuary space. Others were laid out in a storeroom.
On the floor of a classroom in the school, 22-year -old Hasna, the mother of seven-year-old Sabir, whom she had last seen bleeding heavily in the arms of his injured father, sobbed. Her uncle had telephoned her to say he could not find her son or her husband at the city’s clinics.
“Where can we go if they cannot protect us? Why did they tell us the UN school would be safe? We could have stayed and died at home,” she said. – (Guardian service)