Israel-Gaza conflict: Israeli attack on UN school which killed 10 people ‘a gross violation of international law'
*Warning: Graphic images*
An Israeli attack on a UN school in Gaza which killed 10 people on Sunday was “a moral outrage and a criminal act”, according to the United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who called for those responsible for the “gross violation of international law” to be brought to account.
It was the seventh time a UN shelter has been hit in the 27 days of the Gaza conflict. The victims had all taken shelter in the schools after being instructed by the Israeli military to leave their homes.
The latest deaths took place in Rafah, which has been subjected to a ferocious assault after Israel accused Hamas of kidnapping a soldier and killing two others in an ambush. The dead were among 118 reported killed today by the Palestinian ministry of health, bring the number of Palestinians killed to more than 1,800.
On Saturday evening, the Israeli military confirmed that Lieutenant Hadar Goldin was killed in action. But there was no respite in the attacks and this morning’s blast, at the entrance of the Rafah Preparatory A Boys School, came as a group of boys and girls were gathered around a stall selling sweets and crisps.
Of the 10 dead, four were children aged between five and 12. Their bodies, wrapped in blankets, were laid on the pavement outside before being moved to a local hospital. Some of the adults were in a food queue just inside when the blast took place. The missile had left a shallow indentation where it had hit the road, spraying shrapnel.
The deaths came as some Israeli forces began to withdraw from the northern parts of Gaza. Residents were told they could return to those areas. However, some who did do so came under fire; among them were the Sobah family, four of whom were injured in a drone strike minutes after arriving in Beit Lahiya.
The attacks on the schools had led to bitter international recriminations, with the UN Secretary-General and foreign governments criticising the Israeli military. The shelling of a shelter at Jabaliya, in the north, killing 19, was condemned by Mr Ban as “unjustifiable and shameful” and drew an unusually severe rebuke from the Obama administration.
The Israeli military had been informed no less than 17 times about the location of the Jabaliya school, the UN revealed. An attack the previous week in Beit Lahiya, resulting in 16 deaths, led to the UN and the Israeli military trading accusations over who was to blame for a failure to evacuate the building.
After the Rafah attack, the director of operations for the UN’s agency for Palestinian refugees in Gaza, Robert Turner, once again insisted that there was no excuse for not knowing the school was being used for refugees. “The locations of these installations have been passed on to the Israeli military multiple times” he said. “They know where these shelters are; how this continued to happen, I have no idea. I have no words for it, I don’t understand it.”
Although most of the Israeli military action had been around the east of Rafah, there had been steady firing during the night around the school in the Nijma district in the centre of the city.
Salah al-Malal, 24, was using the washing facilities near the main gate in preparation for going to the funeral of a friend, killed by tank fire the previous day, when he was blown off his feet by a blast. “I heard a whistling sound and then a huge crash. I could feel pain along my legs,” he said. “There were lots of children with blood on them, I tried to go towards them to help, then I fell.”
Fifteen-year-old Mohammed Nazmi Olwan had already received leg injuries when his home was hit by an air strike 20 days ago. “After that my father decided that we must move and we went to the school,” he said at the Kuwaiti Hospital in Rafah. “Of course we had heard about other schools being attacked, but then, where else can one go to? But I did not think I would be injured again. I did not think I would be so unlucky.”
Mohammed was lying on a stretcher in a corridor as nurses stitched the wounds on his stomach and thighs. The main hospital in the city, al-Najjar, was badly damaged by an artillery strike and this is the smallest of three hospitals to which casualties have been sent.
About 58 bodies had to be abandoned when al-Najjar was evacuated. They were brought this morning to the Kuwaiti Hospital and, wrapped in shrouds, were packed into a room. Some of the ambulance crews said they had been shot at as they travelled through the streets.
Dr Mohammed Al-Hams, who had arrived at the Kuwaiti Hospital from Al-Najjar, said: “ We had to get the bodies. They would have decomposed if we had left them there in the heat. As you can see there are families here and they will take the bodies for burial. Some, however, have severe injuries, and it may be difficult to identify them.
“This is a private hospital and takes only ten beds.”
A house close to the hospital was bombed on Saturday, killing four members of the Taha family, including a two-month-old baby. This afternoon there was another bombing, even nearer. “It is getting more and more dangerous” said Dr Hams. “ We may have to evacuate, which will mean there’ll be really no immediate medical care for people here.”
The death toll in Gaza has also become an issue in British politics. Ed Miliband, the Labour leader, has accused David Cameron of staying silent to appease potential critics within in his own party. He accused Mr Cameron of “silence on the killing of hundreds of Palestinian civilians”.