Fifteen killed in Israeli shelling of UN school sheltering Palestinians

Israel and Palestinians trade blame as Secretary General Ban Ki-moon condemns strike on Gaza shelter, in which 200 wounded

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 24 July, 2014, 10:36pm
UPDATED : Friday, 25 July, 2014, 1:48am

Fifteen people were killed, including a baby, yesterday when an Israeli shell slammed into a UN-run school in Gaza sheltering Palestinians fleeing fighting between Hamas and the army, medics said.

Ashraf Ashraf al-Qudra, spokesman for the Gaza Health Ministry, said as well as the 15 dead, another 200 people were wounded in the attack.

But Israeli army spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner cast doubt on whether the military was to blame, suggesting militants firing missiles could have caused the deaths.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he was appalled by the attack.

"Circumstances are still unclear. I strongly condemn this act," Ban said. "Many have been killed - including women and children, as well as UN staff."

It was the latest in a number of alleged Israeli strikes on schools and hospitals in the embattled Palestinian territory, as the death toll from a 17-day operation to halt rocket fire by Gaza militants topped 770.

Such a massacre requires more than one hospital to deal with [all the victims]

"Precise co-ordinates of the UNRWA shelter in Beit Hanun had been formally given to the Israeli army," UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness said on Twitter.

The shell appeared to have struck in the middle of the school courtyard, which was covered with blood stains. All around the sides of the yard, blankets and clothes had been hung up by people who had turned it into a makeshift home after fleeing their own houses.

Gunness said there had earlier been "firing around the compound," and asked the army for time to evacuate civilians. "That was never granted," hesaid.

But Lerner disputed that account, describing Gunness's assertion as "ridiculous."

"He is wrong," he said, adding a humanitarian window had been granted between 10.00 and 2.00pm yesterday.

"We've been asking them for the last three days to evacuate people because we understand that Hamas will go to all lengths to put people in harm's way," Lerner said.

He acknowledged "we don't know what caused this tragedy," but suggested militant fire could have been to blame.

The director of the local hospital said various medical centres around Beit Hanun in the coastal enclave were receiving the wounded.

"Such a massacre requires more than one hospital to deal with it," said Ayman Hamdan.

A Palestinian man said after initial Israeli fire in the area, those sheltering in the school were waiting to be evacuated when the shell hit.

Thirty-two Israeli soldiers have been killed in the army's ground operation, and three civilians have died in Israel from rocket fire.

The bloodshed has seen a rise in anti-Semitism in Europe, with protests giving way to racist attacks on Jewish institutions.

France called on pro-Palestinian demonstrators to maintain calm, while Germany said racism against Jews would not be tolerated.

The latest incident occurred in Austria, where protesters against Israel's military offensive in Gaza attacked Israeli soccer players at a friendly match, stopping play five minutes before the end.

Salzburg police said around 20 people with flags and placards stormed the pitch shouting slogans about the Gaza conflict.

Police said there were clashes with the players from Maccabi Haifa, who were playing a friendly against Lille in Bischofshofen in Salzburg province, but no one was injured

Additional reporting by Reuters