Carnage at UN school as Israel pounds Gaza Strip

UN says ‘enough is enough’ in wake of attack and asks where civilians are supposed to go when they are warned to leave

Israeli fire killed at least 21 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip early on Wednesday as the Jewish state said it targeted Islamist militants at dozens of sites across the coastal enclave. Video: Reuters

 

Israeli shelling killed at least 15 Palestinians sheltering in a UN-run school and another 17 near a street market today, Gaza’s Health Ministry said, with no ceasefire in sight after more than three weeks of fighting.

Israel’s security cabinet convened to discuss a revamped Egyptian proposal for a truce but it was unclear whether any decision was imminent that could halt a 23-day conflict in which nearly 1,400 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 (UNRWA) 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,” Mr Krahenbuhl said.

The Gaza Health Ministry put the number of dead in the school attack at 15 with more than 100 wounded.

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 United Nations declared “enough is enough” in the wake of the attack on the school and asked - when civilians are warned to leave, where do they go?

With 1.8 million people living in a Mediterranean enclave he described as the size of Detroit and Philadelphia, a disheartened UN deputy secretary-general Jan Eliasson said there was nowhere for people to flee the conflict that has killed some 1,200 Palestinians.

“This is a moment where you really have to say ‘enough is enough’ and you have to search for the right words to convince those who have the power to stop this,” Mr Eliasson told reporters at the United Nations.

Israel says it regularly warns residents by phone calls, text messages, leaflets and dud missiles launched on their roofs to warn them in advance of attacks. But Mr Eliasson asked: “Where do they go? There’s very few places to go in Gaza.”

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

Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas said today Gaza had become a “humanitarian disaster area” and urged the UN and international aid agencies to assume responsibility for meeting the needs of the Palestinians in the battered enclave.

UNRWA said yesterday 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.

Mr 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.

The chief Israeli military spokesman, Brigadier-General Motti Almoz, said the offensive against militants in the Hamas Islamist-dominated Gaza Strip had been broadened slightly.

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

Witnesses said the shopping area was busy because residents, and many who had taken shelter in the area from fighting elsewhere, thought a ceasefire was in place.

The Israeli military had no immediate comment.

“Such a massacre requires an earthquake-like response,” Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said.

The army said more than 50 rockets were fired from the teeming coastal enclave into Israel today, causing no reported casualties or damage.

According to the Gaza Health Ministry, 1,323 Palestinians, mostly civilians, have been killed since Israel began its offensive on July 8th with the declared aim of halting cross-border rocket fire. Ninety-six Palestinians were killed today 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 flareups.

The army has said the main mission of its ground incursion is to locate and destroy tunnels that militants have built under the frontier and have used to launch attacks inside Israel.

Mohammed Deif, the shadowy leader of Hamas’s armed wing, said in a broadcast message on Tuesday that Palestinians would continue confronting Israel until its blockade on Gaza - which is supported by neighbouring Egypt - was lifted.

Israel has balked at freeing up Gaza’s borders under any de-escalation deal unless Hamas’s disarmament is also guaranteed.

Agencies