Airstrike hits U.N. shelter in Gaza
TEL AVIV — A strike on a U.N. shelter in northern Gaza on Thursday has killed and injured multiple people, a United Nations spokesman said Thursday.
The coordinates of the school in Beit Hanoun, which was serving a shelter for families in Gaza, had been given to the Israeli military, said the spokesman, Chris Gunness.
“Many have been killed — including women and children, as well as U.N. staff” according to a statement issued by Ban Ki-moon, the U.N. secretary-general. Footage shows pools of blood at the scene. Ban, who was traveling in Iraq on Thursday, said he was “appalled” by the violence.
It’s unclear who was behind the strike. The Israeli military said it was “reviewing” the incident and told CNN that a rocket fired from Gaza could have been responsible. Sometimes, rockets from Gaza fall and explode, and that could have been the case here, the military said.
In a statement, the Israel Defense Forces said it is “in the midst of combat, with Hamas terrorists in the area of Beit Hanoun, who are using civilian infrastructure and international symbols as human shields. In the course of the afternoon, several rockets launched by Hamas from within the Gaza Strip landed in the Beit Hanoun area.”
But shortly after the strike, Gunness tweeted that the coordinates of the shelter had been given to the Israeli military and that the United Nations Relief and Works Agency had twice tried to coordinate with the Israeli military to evacuate the civilians at the shelter.
The shelter is in an area that has seen intense fighting recently.
Gunness posted: “Precise co-ordinates of the UNRWA shelter in Beit Hanoun had been formally given to the Israeli army … ” and then minutes later tweeted: “Over the course of the day UNRWA tried 2 coodinate with the Israeli Army a window for civilians 2 leave & it was never granted …”
A Palestinian government statement condemned the strike, calling it “Israeli brutal aggression that targeted” Gaza’s displaced. It demanded an end to the “Israeli war machine.”
The strike killed 16 people and injured more than 200, most of them women and children, the statement said.
Not the first UN school to be hit
CNN is following the developing situation with correspondents and producers in the area. CNN’s Karl Penhaul in Gaza said that it’s unclear how many people were in the shelter, but U.N. schools can typically hold up to 1,500 people.
The United Nations Relief and Works Agency, which is helping shelter Palestinians displaced by the conflict, said that 140,000 residents have taken refuge in 83 schools in Gaza that are serving as shelters.
Thursday’s hit at the shelter is just the latest violence that has raged for more than three weeks between Israel and Hamas in Gaza. Hundreds have died, including many children.
Thursday’s strike marks the third time a U.N. school serving as a shelter has been hit.
The first occurred on July 22 in eastern Gaza where about 300 people were staying, the UNRWA said. The second occurred Wednesday in central Gaza at a shelter were about 1,500 were staying, Penhaul reported.
News of Thursday’s strike on the shelter also comes as the Israeli military said the number of airstrikes it was launching had been lowered.
Israel Defense Forces said it hit 35 terror targets overnight. A day earlier, the number was 187.
The Israeli military also reported a sharp fall in the number of rockets fired from Gaza early Thursday, although as the day wore on, more rockets were lofted toward Israel, some in the direction of the international airport in Tel Aviv.
The Israeli military said it captured 150 “terrorist suspects” in Gaza on Wednesday.
Even with a slump in airstrikes and rocket attacks, the toll the fighting has taken is clear.
It can be seen in the blocks of rubble that line Gaza neighborhoods, where the Israeli military has relentlessly bombed. It’s evident in the frayed nerves of Israeli citizens who dive into bomb shelters as Hamas rockets fly in their direction on a daily basis.
Mideast shuttle diplomacy took no break on Thursday.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was back in Cairo, continuing his shuttle diplomacy to forge a truce a day after meeting with Israeli and Palestinian leaders as well Secretary-General Ban.
“Over the last few days, Secretary Kerry has been engaged with the Israelis, Palestinians, Egyptians, Europeans, the U.N., the Arab League, Qatar, Jordan, Turkey and the UAE (United Arab Emirates) to determine how to achieve an end to the current violence and build a process that can create a sustainable path forward,” White House Deputy Press Secretary Eric Schultz said.
The diplomatic effort wasn’t solely limited to the United States, as several Middle Eastern nations worked to try to win Hamas’ agreement for an Egyptian-led cease-fire. Hamas said Turkey and Kuwait were also involved.
Death tolls jump
The Gaza Health Ministry said Thursday that 732 Palestinians have been killed in the fighting, including at least 166 children. More than 4,600 people have been wounded, the health officials said.
It’s unclear how many of the dead were civilians. The United Nations estimates that more than 70% were. The Israeli military said 230 militants have been killed.
Three more Israeli soldiers were killed Wednesday, bringing the total to 32 plus three civilians. Among the soldiers, three died from friendly fire.
A Hamas mortar shell killed a foreign worker in Ashkelon on Wednesday, marking the third civilian death on the Israeli side.
Hamas has said it is holding an Israeli soldier it captured in an ambush on an armored personnel carrier Sunday. Six other IDF soldiers died in the ambush.
On Tuesday, the Israeli military released the soldier’s name — Sgt. Oren Shaul — but said it was “working to identify his body.”
Israeli media reported that Shaul was missing and presumed dead.
U.N. slams possible ‘war crimes’
“There seems to be a strong possibility that international humanitarian law has been violated, in a manner that could amount to war crimes,” U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said Wednesday.
“I unequivocally reiterate to all actors in this conflict that civilians must not be targeted. It is imperative that Israel, Hamas and all Palestinian armed groups strictly abide by applicable norms of international humanitarian law and international human rights law,” Pillay said.
Some Israeli officials rejected Pillay’s statements about Israel.
“She would be better advised to seek credible first-hand information rather than making intolerably biased statements based on newspaper clippings,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said, according to The Jerusalem Post. He added that Pillay’s “embarrassingly shallow and populist affirmations … do a huge disservice to actual human rights.”
Also Wednesday, Ban announced he was ordering a review of incidents where rockets were placed at United Nations Relief and Works Agency schools. Ban demanded that militants stop endangering civilians by putting rockets at the schools.
The Shaja’ia area of Gaza City has been among the hardest hit in the Israeli onslaught. The International Committee of the Red Cross went into the neighborhood on Wednesday and found it “partially demolished,” the ICRC said.
The Israel Defense Forces has warned residents of the neighborhood to flee multiple times and has accused Hamas of telling people to remain in their homes.
Looking for the living and the dead, the Red Cross found anger instead.
“Do you see?” Ahmed al-Halo said Wednesday, pointing to where his house lies in ruin after four straight days of Israeli military strikes. “They’re hitting civilians. They didn’t hit one of the fighters or any of their so called military targets. Look at what they did. They destroyed the houses, the street, and killed civilians.”
“I’ve never seen destruction like this,” fireman Kamal Abu Assi said.
In the end there was nothing the Red Cross could do for Shaja’ia, a firefight broke out, forcing the ICRC team to evacuate.
Tunnels and a hospital strike
During their ground offensive in Gaza, The IDF has found 31 tunnels that go from Gaza into Israel. “Since the beginning of the ground operation, more than 60 access shafts leading to (the) tunnels were uncovered,” Israel said.
The al-Wafa hospital, near hard-hit Shaja’ia, “is a Hamas military compound,” the Israel Defense Forces said Wednesday. At Israel’s request, it was evacuated of patients and staff Tuesday, though Hamas gunmen remained, firing at Israeli forces, the IDF said. Israel confirmed the evacuation with a World Health Organization official, then struck the “terror targets” at the site, the IDF said.
The Israeli military released video it said showed secondary explosions from stockpiled munitions when the hospital was hit.