15 Refugees Killed by Israeli Shelling of Gaza School Used as UN Shelter

( [email protected] ) Jul 24, 2014 06:07 PM EDT
Gaza Conflict - Israel and Hamas
Palestinian children on the floor of the emergency room at Kamal Adwan hospital in the Gaza Strip. They were wounded in an Israeli strike on a compound housing a U.N. school in Beit Hanoun. (Lefteris Pitarakis / Associated Press)

The bombings occurred at a school compound in Beit Hanoun,which was used as a safe haven for Palestinian refugees. According to a Gaza health official, the building was caught in the crossfire between Israeli and Palestinian forces.

While details of those killed have not yet been released, an AFP journalist at a nearby morgue said the bodies arriving from the scene included a mother and her one year old baby.

Chris Gunness, a spokesperson for the U.N. Refugee and Works Agency (UNRWA) says that the compound was intentionally targeted, as the precise coordinates of the shelter had been given to Israeli forces.

According to Reuters, Israel's Defense Forces issued a statement Thursday saying they had ordered the Red Cross to evacuate civilians from the shelter in Belt Hanoun late Wednesday night and Thursday morning. However, Hamas militants prevented any evacuations and continued to bomb the area surrounding the shelter.

"The IDF responded by targeting the source of the fire. Also today, several rockets launched from Gaza toward Israel fell short and hit Beit Hanoun," the statement said.

The UN Secretary General stated that UN staff were among the dead and injured in the bombing of the school.

"Today's attack underscores the imperative for the killing to stop-and to stop now," he said in a statement.

Despite attempted interventions, the battle continues to rage between Israeli forces and the militant group Hamas. The Associated Press reports that the Palestinian death toll in Gaza surpassed 720 in overnight and early-morning bombardment.  In the meantime, rebel forces continued to fire rounds of rockets into Israeli territory, but most were intercepted by Israel's Iron Dome antimissile defense system,

In speaking with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said his country was "gravely concerned by the ongoing heavy level" of civilian deaths and injuries Gaza.

"We want to see a cease-fire quickly agreed," he stated.

The Israeli PM said that while his country was trying to minimize civilian casualties, "we cannot give our attackers immunity or impunity."

Gaza Conflict - Israel and Hamas
A wounded man is helped to the emergency room at Nasser Hospital after an Israeli air strike in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip. (Hatem Ali / Associated Press)

UN humanitarian chief Valerie Amos has expressed concern about the rising number of civilian casualties in Gaza, saying it was "almost impossible" for Palestinians to shelter from Israeli airstrikes.

"The reality in Gaza is, it doesn't matter how hard Israel tries to minimize harm, this is an extremely overcrowded stretch of land," she told BBC radio.

According to Israeli media reports, the country has detained dozens of suspected rebels overnight in Gaza. Thus far, 500 militants affiliated with Hamas and other Islamist extremist groups have been killed since the start of the battle. However, the United Nations reports that up to three-quarters of those dead are civilians.

Mrs. Amos says a ceasefire is unlikely in the near future, and expects the death toll to rise midst the "devastating situation."

 "No one is denying the right of Israel to defend itself but there are huge concerns about the impact this is having on ordinary people on the ground," Mrs. Amos concluded.