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Israeli strike on UN school in Gaza leaves 40 dead

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• UN says attacking, targeting its buildings against international law
• US, other states call on Tel Aviv, Hamas to swiftly finalise truce deal
• Ceasefire talks in Doha show no sign of breakthrough

CAIRO: Israel hit a Gaza school on Thursday with what it described as a targeted airstrike on up to 30 Hamas fighters inside, and a Hamas official said 40 people, including women and children, were killed as they sheltered in the UN site.

Video footage showed Palestinians hauling away bodies after the attack, which took place at a sensitive moment in mediated talks on a ceasefire that would involve releasing prisoners held by Hamas and some of the Palestinians held in Israeli jails.

The United States issued a joint statement with other countries on Thursday calling on Israel and Hamas to make whatever compromises were necessary to finalise a deal after eight months of war in the Gaza Strip.

Ismail Al-Thawabta, the director of the Hamas-run government media office, rejected Israel’s assertion that the UN school in Nuseirat, in central Gaza, had hidden a Hamas command post.

“The occupation uses … false fabricated stories to justify the brutal crime it conducted against dozens of displaced people,” Thawabta told Reuters.

Israel’s military said its fighter jets had carried out a “precise strike” and circulated satellite photos highlighting two parts of a building where it said the fighters were based. “We’re very confident in the intelligence,” military spokesperson Lt Col Peter Lerner said, accusing Hamas and Islamic Jihad fighters of deliberately using UN facilities as operational bases.

He said 20-30 fighters were located in the compound, and many of them had been killed, but had no precise details as intelligence assessments were being carried out.

As people at the school cleared rubble from bloodstained classrooms, survivor Huda Abu Dhaher described waking up to the sound of rockets. “People’s remains were scattered inside the yard and outside. The gas canister exploded,” she told Reuters.

“My nephew was martyred (killed), he lost his leg and arm, he was a 10-year-old … This woman’s leg got a fragment in it, her son bled from his mouth and leg, her mother-in-law sustained three injuries.”

Palestinians check a UN school housing displaced people that was hit by Israeli bombardment in Nuseirat on June 6. — AFP
The school, run by the UN Palestinian refugee agency (UNRWA), was sheltering 6,000 displaced people at the time, UNRWA chief Philippe Lazzarini said.

“At least 35 people were killed and many more injured,” he wrote on X.

“Claims that armed groups may have been inside the shelter are shocking. We are however unable to verify these claims. Attacking, targeting or using UN buildings for military purposes are a blatant disregard of International Humanitarian law.”

Thawabta and a medical source said 40 had been killed, including 14 children and nine women.

Ceasefire efforts

Israel announced a new military campaign in central Gaza on Wednesday as it battles fighters relying on hit-and-run tactics. It says there will be no halt to fighting during the ceasefire talks, which have intensified since US President Joe Biden outlined a proposal.

“At this decisive moment, we call on the leaders of Israel as well as Hamas to make whatever final compromises are necessary to close this deal,” said the statement issued by the White House jointly with Argentina, Austria, Brazil, Britain, Canada and others.

Hamas seeks a permanent end to the war. Israel says it must destroy the group first.

CIA director William Burns met senior officials from mediators Qatar and Egypt on Wednesday in Doha to discuss the ceasefire plan. Two Egyptian security sources said talks continued on Thursday but had shown no sign of breakthrough.

Biden has repeatedly declared that ceasefires were close over the past several months, but there has been only one, week-long truce, in November.

Published in Dawn, June 7th, 2024


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