Israeli bombs hit a U.N.-run school in the Gaza Strip Thursday, killing at least 15 people and wounding more than 100, Palestinian officials said. Several shells hit the school run by the U.N. Relief and Works Agency in Beit Hanoun, according to the Gaza Health Ministry.
Officials added that the school was filled with women and children who fled their homes to escape more than two weeks of intense fighting between Israel and Hamas, the militant Palestinian Islamist group that controls the Gaza Strip. The Washington Post reports that at least four people died on operating tables at the Beit Hanoun hospital.
Ayman Hamdan, director of the hospital, stated, “Such a massacre requires more than one hospital to deal with it. Several other medical centers around the city also received wounded people.”
UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness told Al Jazeera in an interview Thursday that the organization was in contact with Israeli forces as fighting closed in on the shelter and school. He stated, “We gave the Israelis the precise GPS co-ordinates of the Beit Hanoun shelter. We were trying to co-ordinate a window [for evacuation] and that was never granted.”
Gunness added that he couldn’t confirm or deny whether Hamas fighters were near the building. However, he stated that Israel and Hamas “must respect the inviolability of UN premises and humanitarian law.” He called the Israeli bombing of the UN school “tragic and appalling.”
Robert Turner, the director for UNRWA, added that there was no warning before the bombs landed. He stated, “This is a designated emergency shelter. The location was conveyed to the Israelis. This was an installation we were managing, that monitored [to ensure] that our neutrality was maintained.”
Thursday’s incident was the fourth time a U.N. facility has been hit in the 17 days Israeli has bombarded Gaza. It was the first time casualties were reported. A witness who arrived at the Kamal Adwan hospital after the attack questioned what happened. The witness told Al Jazeera, “We were sitting in the school, because we were told it is safe. By God, there was not a single fighter, not a single shot fired from the school.”
Survivors reported that they were told to gather in the school’s courtyard by noon to be taken to a safer area by bus. The buses never came and at least three shells hit the school around 2:30 pm.
There was no immediate comment from Israeli authorities on the shelling of the UN school. At least 730 Palestinians have been killed, according to unverified figures from Hamas and other Palestinian sources. The IDF reports 32 Israeli soldiers have been killed.
[Image by Ewa Jasiewicz]