Israel kills 10 in UNRWA school as Netanyahu vows to keep up Gaza assault

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Palestinians carry injured people following an Israeli military strike on a UN school in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip on August 3, 2014. (Photo: AFP - Said Khatib)

Published Sunday, August 3, 2014

Updated at 10:40 pm (GMT+3): At least 10 people were killed Sunday in a fresh strike on a UN school in southern Gaza which was sheltering Palestinians displaced by a brutal Israeli military offensive, medics said.

Renewed Israeli shelling killed more than 71 people in Gaza on Sunday after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to keep up pressure on Hamas even after the army destroys Gaza’s tunnel network.

Gaza emergency services spokesman Ashraf al-Qudra said dozens of people were wounded in the attack which took place in the southern city of Rafah, which straddles the border with Egypt.

Chris Gunness, spokesman for the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA), said the school had been housing thousands of internally displaced people (IDPs) who had been forced to flee their homes by the ongoing violence in Gaza.

"Shelling incident in vicinity of UNRWA school in Rafah sheltering almost 3,000 IDP. Initial reports say multiple deaths and injury," he wrote on his Twitter feed.

An AFP correspondent said there were scenes of chaos at the site, with rescuers trying to evacuate the wounded any way they could, while adults were seen sprinting frantically away through pools of blood, young children clutched in their arms.

It was the third time in 10 days that a UN school had been hit and came four days after Israeli tank shells slammed into a school in the northern town of Jabalia, killing 16 in an attack furiously denounced by UN chief Ban Ki-moon as "reprehensible."

Speaking of Sunday's attack on an UNRWA school, Ban strongly condemned the shelling, calling it "a moral outrage and a criminal act."

"This madness must stop," Ban said through his spokesman.

Pierre Krahenbuhl, head of the UN Palestinian refugee relief agency, UNRWA, said the shell exploded just outside the main gates of the school in Rafah, causing multiple deaths and injuries inside and outside the building.

"Coming in the aftermath of a series of incidents, of shelling incidents in recent weeks and most recently the shelling of our school in Jabalia, which provoked an outcry and was clearly and deservedly condemned by UNRWA and myself publicly, this is of course another incident that generates both shock and disbelief at the fact that it can happen again," he said on CBS's Face the Nation.

Krahenbuhl acknowledged that on three occasions inspections had turned up weapons caches in UN premises which were not hosting IDPs.

"But clearly, nobody can suggest that because weapons are found in one premise that it can be in any sense a justification for shelling other schools and endangering the lives of displaced people in the middle of a war zone," he said.

Having seen the extent of the deaths and damage caused, he said, "there is no doubt in my mind whatsoever that insufficient measures of precaution and control and protection are being taken, including by the Israeli Defense (sic) Forces, when engaging in Gaza."

Robert Serry, U.N. Middle East Special Coordinator, said he was dismayed at reports of the school attack.

"It is simply intolerable that another school has come under fire while designated to provide shelter for civilians fleeing the hostilities," he said.

Israeli shelling on Sunday pushed the Gaza death toll given by Palestinian officials to more than 1,803, the vast majority of them civilians. At least 9,370 Palestinians have been wounded by Israeli forces.

At least 398 Palestinians killed in Gaza are under the age of 18, but the surviving children also suffer in great numbers from injuries and psychological trauma. UNICEF estimates that 326,000 minors in Gaza are in need of psychological help.

Israel has confirmed that 64 soldiers have died in combat, while Palestinian shelling has also killed two Israeli civilians and one Thai laborer.

Fatah leader and Rafah 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," Goma told Reuters.

Israel redeploying ground troops in Gaza Strip

The attack came as an Israeli army spokesman said the Zionist state was redeploying troops across the Gaza Strip.

"We are removing some (forces), we are changing from within," Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner told AFP on Sunday, describing it as "an ongoing mission."

"We are redeploying within the Gaza Strip and taking out other different positions, and relieving other forces from within, so it won't be the same type of ground operation," he told AFP.

"But indeed we will continue to operate ... (and) have a rapid reaction force on the ground that can engage Hamas if required," he added.

"It's changing gear but it's still ongoing."

His remarks came a day after the Israeli army gave a first indication it was ending operations in parts of Gaza, informing residents of Beit Lahia and al-Atatra in the north that it was "safe" to return home.

Witnesses in the north confirmed seeing troops leaving the area as others were seen pulling out of villages east of Khan Younis in the south.

It was the first time troops had been seen pulling back since the start of the Israeli operation which began on July 8.

Lerner confirmed troops had pulled out of Beit Lahia and al-Atatra, but refused to be drawn on whether the pullout would expand into other areas hit by heavy fighting.

"In the next 24 hours we will see the activity continued on the ground and the redeployment in parallel," he said, without elaborating.

Israeli newspaper Haaretz confirmed that the Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) troops had withdrawn "most of its troops" from Gaza on Sunday, without marking an end to the Israeli offensive.

Israel snubs truce talks as Palestinians outline demands

In Cairo, a Palestinian delegation arrived for new truce talks. After accusing Hamas of breaching a US- and UN-brokered ceasefire on Friday, Israel said it would not send envoys as scheduled.

Exiled Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal insisted that the Palestinian side had not broken a short-lived ceasefire on Friday, putting the spotlight on Israel.

"A truce is a truce. but the presence of the Israeli forces inside Gaza and destroying the tunnels means it is an aggression," he told CNN in an interview late Saturday.

A spokesman for the Islamist movement mocked Netanyahu's statements as "confused", and as testimony of the "real crisis" he was facing.

"We will continue our resistance till we achieve our goals," Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhum told AFP.

Israel intensified attacks in the area of Rafah along the border with Egypt, where an Israeli officer was thought to have been captured there on Friday, and was later confirmed dead.

Medics said at least 110 people were killed in Rafah in 24 hours. Meanwhile, Israeli air strikes and tank fire continued pounding huge areas of southern Gaza into rubble, killing scores more people on Saturday.

Hamas had claimed responsibility for the ambush that captured the army officer, Hadar Goldin, but said the group has lost contact with the fighters involved in the operation, and suggested that they, along with their prisoner of war, may have been killed by Israeli shelling.

Meanwhile, Haaretz reported on Sunday that the IOF had retracted earlier claims that a suicide bomber was involved in the confrontation where Goldin was thought to be captured.

The talks in Cairo, without Israeli participation, were unlikely to produce any breakthrough, as Israel and Hamas' positions remain far apart.

Israel argues that it must be allowed to act against Hamas' rocket arsenal and tunnel network in the framework of any long-term truce.

Qais Abu Laila, a senior leader from the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine who was in Cairo, said the different Palestinian factions had agreed on a unified list of conditions.

"Ceasefire, the pullout of Israeli forces, ending the blockade, releasing the prisoners ... and starting the reconstruction process," he told Reuters by phone.

"There are details attached to each of these points and there will be a meeting soon with the Egyptian side to discuss the (Palestinian) paper," he said.

Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, a member of 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 TV.

Crowded Gaza towns close to the Israeli border have seen destructive clashes and the flight of tens of thousands of Palestinians as tanks and troops swept in to confront dug-in guerrillas.

The Palestinian Center for Human Rights said 520,000 people had been displaced by the fighting - more than a quarter of Gaza's population.

An “insufferable price”

Several Israeli newspapers reported that cabinet ministers have taken a decision not to seek a further negotiated ceasefire agreement with Hamas and were considering ending the military operation unilaterally.

But there appeared to be little further indication Israel was planning to wrap up its operations, with Netanyahu promising that Hamas would pay "an insufferable price" for cross-border rocket fire. There was no mention of the insufferable price paid by Palestinian civilians in the military offensive.

"We will take as much time as necessary, and will exert as much force as needed," he said at a news conference.

Israeli troops were working on destroying a complex network of tunnels used by Palestinian fighters before the next security objectives would be decided, he said, warning that "all options" were on the table.

This statement contradicted earlier claims by Israel, which had said that the tunnels were its main objective in its deadly assault on Gaza.

Netanyahu says that in the longer term, Israel will only allow destroyed neighborhoods of Gaza to be rebuilt if there is an international commitment to a "demilitarization" of the enclave, meaning the disarmament of Hamas.

Military radio's political commentator said Israel will block all cement and steel imports unless it receives assurance they will not be used to build tunnels.

(AFP, Reuters, Al-Akhbar)

Comments

i hate israel having some serious issues one fighting with innocent child .second females they leave a history of blood in palestine...

you would think that with all this they would be smart enough to stop firing rockets at israel

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