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Israeli Attack Kills 10 Palestinian Refugees at UN School as Gaza Death Toll Tops 1,800

Aftermath of Israeli shelling outside UNRWA refugee shelter in Rafah. (Maan Images)

Aftermath of Israeli shelling outside UNRWA refugee shelter in Rafah. (Maan Images)

Ten people were killed and at least 30 more wounded on Sunday when Israeli shells landed just outside a United Nations school in Gaza housing thousands of Palestinian refugees.

The strike outside the UNRWA school in the southern Gaza city of Rafah marked the third time in 10 days that a UN school sheltering refugees from Israel’s ferocious 27-day bombardment of the densely populated strip has been hit.

On July 24, a UNRWA school in Beit Hanoun sheltering thousands of Palestinian refugees was shelled, killing 17 people, including children and two UN workers. UN officials said they had communicated the location and purpose of the shelter to Israeli forces 17 times prior to the attack.

Four days ago, Israeli tank shells blasted a UNRWA school in Jabalia, killing 20 refugees —including sleeping children — in an attack condemned by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon as “reprehensible” and by US President Barack Obama as “totally unacceptable and totally indefensible.”

The US State Department, which said it was “appalled” by Sunday’s attack, condemned the shelling as “disgraceful.”

Ban also slammed the latest Israeli attack on a UN school as “a moral outrage and a criminal act.” Nine UN officials have been killed in Israeli attacks during the course of the war, including one in the latest incident.

Israeli military officials said the Sunday strike targeted militants who were passing by the school on a motorcycle.

“The strike was on… two terrorists on a motorcycle,” Israel Defense Forces (IDF) spokesman Lt. Col. Peter Lerner told Al Jazeera. “We did not carry out a strike on the school.”

Israel has repeatedly accused Hamas and other militants of operating in densely populated civilian areas and of storing weapons in UN facilities. Rockets have been found in three empty UN-run schools in Gaza since the war began.

Around 3,000 terrified and shell-shocked Gaza residents were sheltering at the Rafah school at the time of the attack.

The Guardian reports dozens of children and adults were clustered around the school gates buying biscuits and sweets from vendors who set up stalls by the gates when the attack occurred at 10:50 a.m. The projectile exploded eight to 10 meters (26-33 feet) from the open gates.

Agence France-Presse reported a chaotic scene at the Rafah school, with rescue workers desperately trying to evacuate the wounded while “adults were seen sprinting frantically away through pools of blood, young children clutched in their arms.”

At least three children were killed in the attack, including 10-year-old Yusef Iskaafi, who lived nearby and was selling biscuits near the gates.

“He was just a normal kid, from a good family,” a neighbor told the Guardian. “He had no idea what was going on.”

Mohammed Abu Adwan, 15, was wounded in the attack, in which he saw his friend Moaz Abu Rus, also 15, killed before his eyes.

“Some of the kids were buying sweets… Suddenly there was an explosion. I was hit by shrapnel and they brought me here,” he said from the Kuwaiti Hospital in Rafah.

The Palestinian death toll soared past 1,800 on Sunday, with nearly 10,000 others wounded since Israel’s Protective Edge offensive began on July 8. The majority of the dead have been innocent civilians, including at least 400 children. The UN children’s division, UNICEF, estimates at least 326,000 children in Gaza are in need of psychological counseling.

More than 5,000 Gaza homes have been completely destroyed, with another 27,000 sustaining significant damage. A quarter of Gaza’s population, or around 475,000 people, have been displaced due to the fighting, with more than 250,000 people seeking refuge in UN shelters.

Maan News Agency reports at least 120 Palestinians were killed on Sunday. More than 70 bodies were pulled from the rubble of Rafah, which has been come under heavy, prolonged Israeli bombardment.

“Bodies of the wounded are bleeding in the streets and other corpses are laid on the road with no one able to recover them,” Fatah leader and Rafah resident Ashraf Goma told Reuters.

Among Sunday’s victims are 10 members of the al-Ghoul family, including two infants, who were killed in an Israeli strike on their home in the Tel al-Sultan neighborhood of Rafah.

Gaza hospitals and medical facilities are overwhelmed by the flood of dead and wounded. The UN warned that Gaza’s medical services have reached the brink of collapse. Hospitals and clinics in the besieged strip have been subjected to Israeli attack, as have ambulances and medical workers.

Power and water outages to an attack on Gaza’s only power plant have exacerbated the situation. Last week, a premature infant rescued from her dead mother’s womb died in an intensive care unit, in part because of a lack of electricity.

Israel began withdrawing the majority of its ground forces from combat zones in Gaza on Saturday, even as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to press on with the offensive against Hamas and other militant resistance groups who have fired thousands of rockets and mortar shells into Israel.

Netanyahu said Hamas would pay “an insufferable price” for its continued cross-border attacks, which have killed two Israeli civilians and a Thai farmer since the war began. Sixty-four IDF troops have been killed in combat.

“We will take as much time as necessary, and will exert as much force as needed,” Netanyahu said on Saturday.

International outrage over Israel’s continued killing of innocent civilians has mounted in recent days. In addition to the US and UN condemnation, British Foreign Secretary Phillip Hammond was one of many world leaders to blast Israeli actions.

“The British public has a strong sense that the situation of the civilian population in Gaza is intolerable and must be addressed,” an “appalled” Hammond said on Sunday.

The European Union (EU) reacted to the latest attack on a UN school by condemning Israel’s “intolerable violence” against “innocent women and children” and calling for an immediate end to the bloodshed.

Last week, the UN Human Rights Council voted 29-1 to investigate possible Israeli war crimes in Gaza. The United States cast the lone dissenting vote.

Also last week, five Latin American nations recalled their ambassadors from Israel with a sixth, Bolivia (which severed relations in 2009), declaring Israel a “terrorist state.”

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