It was the second time in a week that a UN school housing refugees had been hit.
International outcry after Israel attacks market and UN school
The National staff
JEBALIYA REFUGEE CAMP, GAZA // At least 17 people were killed in an Israeli air strike on a crowded Gaza market on Wednesday.
The attack came hours after Israeli tank shells slammed into a school sheltering more than 3,000 homeless people, killing 16 and drawing a furious condemnation from the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA).
It was the second time in a week that a UN school housing refugees had been hit, and UNRWA Commissioner General Pierre Krahenbuhl lashed out at Israel.
“I condemn in the strongest possible terms this serious violation of international law by Israeli forces,” he said, indicating the school’s location in the Jabaliya camp had been communicated to the Israeli army 17 times.
“No words to adequately express my anger and indignation,” he wrote on his official Twitter account, saying that 3,300 people had been sheltering there at the time.
“I call on the international community to take deliberate international political action to put an immediate end to the continuing carnage,” he said.
UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon also condemned the Israeli strike as “unjustifiable” on Wednesday, calling for those responsible to be held to account.
“This morning a UN school sheltering thousands of Palestinian families suffered a reprehensible attack,” Mr Ban said.
“It is unjustifiable, and demands accountability and justice.”
Thick black smoke billowed over the market in the war-torn Shujaieh neighbourhood as at least five ambulances raced to the scene where bodies lay strewn on the ground. A bloodied, limp lifeless body lay in a pool of petrol and mud, his head crushed.
It was supposed to have been a rare pause for Gaza’s battered population of 1.8 million to go out in safety to stock up on goods, and for medics to evacuate the dead and wounded.
Instead, there was further bloody mayhem with more than 30 people killed across Gaza in the first three hours alone, sending the death toll from 23 days of unrelenting Israeli attacks soaring above 1,300.
Israel had said that its truce, which began at 1200 GMT, would not apply in places were troops were “currently operating” just hours after the army made what a “significant advance” into the narrow coastal strip.
Hamas denounced the four-hour lull as a publicity stunt, saying it had “no value”.
Eyewitnesses said an airstrike hit a warehouse on the edge of the Shujaieh district, causing a fire and sending a large cloud of black smoke billowing into the sky. The second airstrike struck an area about 500 meters away, according to witnesses, immediately killing at least 17 people in the market, among them local Palestinian photographer Rami Rayan, who was wearing a press vest at the time.
“People were in the street and in the market, mostly women and kids. Suddenly more than 10 shells landed in the area, the market, in the Turkman area, and next to the gas station,” said Salim Qadoum, 26, who witnessed the strike.
“The area now is like a bloodbath, everyone is wounded or killed. People lost their limbs and were screaming for help. It’s a massacre. I vomited when I saw what happened.”
Gaza militants fired 84 rockets at Israel Wednesday, including more than 26 after the ceasefire was announced, the Israeli military said.
The Israeli military said three of its soldiers were killed Wednesday when a house Palestinian militants had rigged with explosives collapsed after they identified an entrance to a tunnel inside. More than a dozen soldiers were wounded in heavy fighting Wednesday, it said.
The latest violence further dimmed hopes of a sustainable truce in the fighting, now in its fourth week.
Adnan Abu Hasna, a spokesman for UNRWA, said he and his five children were huddling under desks in one of the UN schools because of the constant sound of tank fire throughout the night.
“We were scared to death,” he said. “After 4:30am, tanks started firing more. Three explosions shook the school.”
“One classroom collapsed over the head of the people who were inside,” he said.
In one classroom, the front wall was blown out, leaving debris and bloodied clothing. Another strike tore a large round hole in the ceiling of a second-floor classroom.
The Israeli military said it fired back after its soldiers were targeted by mortar rounds launched from the vicinity of the school.
The mortars were fired from a distance of some 200 metres from the school, said an Israeli military official.
About two hours after the strike, hundreds of people still crowded the school courtyard, some dazed, others wailing.
“Where will we go?” asked Aishe Abu Darabeh, 56. “Where will we go next? We fled and they (the Israelis) are following us.”
Meanwhile, the US added its own condemnation of Israel’s shelling of the UN school.
It’s the sharpest criticism the US has levelled at Israel over the more than three weeks of fighting between Israel and Hamas militants in Gaza.
“The United States condemns the shelling of a UNRWA school in Gaza, which reportedly killed and injured innocent Palestinians, including children, and UN humanitarian workers,” the White House said in a statement.
* Associated Press, Agence France-Presse, and Reuters