Israel strike on UN school ‘a criminal act’ - Ban Ki-moon
At least ten killed and 30 injured in building sheltering 3,000 displaced persons in Gaza
UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon described a deadly attack on a UN school today as a “moral outrage and a criminal act“ and called for those responsible for the “gross violation of international humanitarian law“ to be held accountable.
In a statement, Mr Ban strongly condemned the shelling of the school in Rafah in southern Gaza that killed at least 10 civilians. The school was sheltering 3,000 displaced persons and Mr Ban said the “Israel Defense Forces have been repeatedly informed of the location of these sites.”
The Israeli air strike wounded about 30 others today and Israeli military said it was looking into the reported attack, the second to hit a school in less than a week.
Israeli media, on the 27th day of the fighting, reported that most Israeli troops had pulled out of Gaza, and Reuters TV footage showed a column of Israeli tanks and dozens of infantrymen leaving the enclave.
An Israeli military spokesman stopped short of calling the move a withdrawal, but said residents from some evacuated Palestinian neighbourhoods had been told by the army they could return.
“The troops are in the midst of a redeployment to other parts of the border,” said lieutenant-colonel Peter Lerner. “Indeed we are releasing troops from the front line but the mission is ongoing. Ground forces are operating. Air forces are operating.”
In the town of Rafah, where the military has been battling militants, a missile from an Israeli aircraft struck the entrance to the school, where Palestinians who had fled their homes were sheltering, witnesses and medics said.
Ashraf Al-Qidra, spokesman for the Gaza health ministry, said 10 people were killed and 30 wounded.
Robert Serry, UN middle east special coordinator, said the strike in the immediate vicinity of the school in Rafah sheltering 3,000 displaced persons caused multiple deaths and injuries.
“It is simply intolerable that another school has come under fire while designated to provide shelter for civilians fleeing the hostilities,” he said.
Last Wednesday, at least 15 Palestinians who sought refuge in a UN-run school in Jabalya refugee camp were killed during fighting, and the UN said it appeared that Israeli artillery had hit the building. The Israeli military said gunmen had fired mortar bombs from near the school and it shot back in response.
Earlier today, Israeli shelling killed at least 30 people in Gaza, a day after prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to keep up pressure on Hamas even after the army completes its core mission of destroying a tunnel network that extends into Israel.
Mr Netanyahu says Gaza’s dominant Hamas faction bears ultimate responsibility for civilian casualties, accusing gunmen and rocket-launching squads of using residents in densely populated areas as “human shields”.
In Rafah, Fatah faction leader and local resident Ashraf Goma said Israeli forces were bombarding the town from air, ground and sea and locals were unable to deal with the wounded and the dead.
“Bodies of the wounded are bleeding in the streets and other corpses are laid on the road with no one able to recover them.
“I saw a man on a donkey cart bringing seven bodies into the hospital. Bodies are being kept in ice-cream refrigerators, in flower and vegetable coolers,” Mr Goma told Reuters.
The Israeli army said that more than 55 rockets had been fired from Gaza at Israel today.
Israeli troops had discovered a cache of 150 mortar bombs in the southern Gaza Strip. They had clashed with Palestinian fighters who had emerged from a tunnel and with others preparing to launch an anti-tank missile from a house in the area, a military statement said.
In Cairo, efforts to find a new truce were due to resume today.
A delegation from Palestinian militant groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad arrived in the Egyptian capital, but a quick breakthrough seemed unlikely in the absence of Israeli representatives.
After accusing Hamas of breaching a US- and UN-brokered ceasefire on Friday, Israel said it would not send envoys as scheduled.
In Gaza, Israel intensified attacks in the area of Rafah along the border with Egypt, where 23-year-old officer Hadar Goldin was feared captured there on Friday shortly after what was to have been a 72-hour truce began.
The military later said Mr Goldin, who was dragged by militants into a tunnel after two of his comrades were killed by a suicide bomber, had also died in action.
Hamas accused Israel of misleading the world by claiming a soldier had been kidnapped before later announcing his death.
Defence minister Moshe Yaalon said Goldin was a relative of his. “He and other soldiers who fell embarked on the campaign to restore quiet and security to Israel.”
More than 30 tunnels and dozens of access shafts have been unearthed and were being blown up.
Israel expected to complete its mission to eliminate tunnels “probably within the next 24 hours or so”, Lerner, the military spokesman, said.
Israel began its air and naval offensive against Gaza on July 8th following a surge of cross-border rocket salvoes by Hamas and other guerrillas, later escalating the operation into ground incursions.
The fighting on Sunday pushed the Gaza death toll given by Palestinian officials to 1,770, most of them civilians. Israel has confirmed that 64 soldiers have died in combat, while Palestinian rockets have also killed three civilians in Israel.
At least 30 Palestinians in Rafah were killed by Israeli fire today, including nine from the same family, hospital officials said.
The talks in Cairo, without Israeli participation, were unlikely to produce any breakthrough, as Israel and Hamas‘ positions remain far apart.
Israel says it wants Gaza demilitarized under any long-term arrangement. Hamas, sworn to Israel‘s destruction, demands Israel withdraw its troops and a lifting of Israeli and Egyptian blockades that have choked Gaza’s economy.
Israeli justice minister Tzipi Livni, a member of Mr Netanyahu’s decision-making security cabinet, said any agreement on the issue was still far off.
“You want to talk about lifting the blockade? Not with us, and not now,” she told the news website Ynet.
The United Nations said 460,000 people had been displaced by the fighting - a quarter of Gaza”s population.