A Palestinian man holds the body of a baby who died during shelling on the UN school in Beit Hanoun, Gaza Strip. (AFP)
Gaza/Jerusalem, July 24 (Reuters): Gazan authorities said Israeli forces shelled a shelter at a UN-run school today, killing at least 15 people as the Palestinian death toll in the conflict climbed over 750 and attempts at a truce remained elusive.
UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon expressed his horror at the attack on the school at Beit Hanoun in the northern Gaza strip. “Many have been killed — including women and children, as well as UN staff,” he said in a statement. “Circumstances are still unclear. I strongly condemn this act.”
The Israeli military said its troops were fighting gunmen from Hamas, which runs Gaza, in the area and that it was investigating the incident. A spokesman for the UN relief agency said it had tried in vain to arrange an evacuation of civilians from the school with the Israeli army, and noted reports of Hamas rockets falling in the area at the same time.
Pools of blood lay on the ground and on students’ desks in the courtyard of the school near the apparent impact mark of the shell, according to a Reuters photographer at the scene.
Scores of crying families who had been living in the school ran with their children to a hospital where the victims were being treated a few hundred metres away. Laila Al-Shinbari, a woman who was at the school when it was shelled, told Reuters that families had gathered in the courtyard expecting to be evacuated shortly in a Red Cross convoy.
“All of us sat in one place when suddenly four shells landed on our heads ... Bodies were on the ground, (there was) blood and screams. My son is dead and all my relatives are wounded including my other kids,” she wept.
Ashraf al-Qidra, spokesman for the Gaza health ministry, said that as well as the 15 dead, another 200 people had been wounded in the attack. The director of a local hospital said various medical centres around Beit Hanoun were receiving the wounded.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said yesterday that there was “a strong possibility” that Israel was committing war crimes in Gaza, where medical officials say most of those killed were civilians.
Pillay also condemned indiscriminate Islamist rocket fire out of Gaza, and the UN Human Rights Council said it would launch an international inquiry into alleged violations.
A furious Netanyahu denounced the inquiry as a “travesty”.
“The HRC should be launching an investigation into Hamas’s decision to turn hospitals into military command centres, use schools as weapons depots and place missile batteries next to playgrounds, private homes and mosques,” he said.
Ban, who has also been on a truce-seeking mission, lashed out earlier at Gaza militants, expressing “outrage and regret” that rockets had been found inside a UN school for refugees for the second time during the conflict. He said storing rockets there “turned schools into potentially military targets, endangering the lives of innocent children”, along with UN employees.