Israeli strike kills more than 30 people at Gaza school ‘being used by Hamas’

6 June 2024, 22:14

Palestinian children wounded in the Israeli bombardment on a residential building in Bureij refugee camp are brought to al-Aqsa Martyrs hospital in Deir al-Balah
Israel Palestinians. Picture: PA

The strike on Thursday came after the military announced a new ground and air assault in several refugee camps in central Gaza.

An Israeli strike on a school sheltering displaced Palestinians in central Gaza has killed more than 30 people, including nine children and three women, according to health officials.

The hospitals where the bodies were brought later amended its records to show that fewer women and children were among those killed.

The Israeli military says it carried out a precise strike early on Thursday on three classrooms in the UN-run school where it says around 30 Palestinian militants were planning and orchestrating attacks.

It said it has confirmed killing nine militants.

The Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital initially reported that nine women and 14 children were among 33 people killed in the strike on the school.

The hospital morgue later amended those records to show that the dead included three women, nine children and 21 men. It was not immediately clear what caused the discrepancy.

Israel Palestinians
Palestinians look at the aftermath of the Israeli strike on a UN-run school that killed dozens of people in the Nusseirat refugee camp in the Gaza Strip (Jehad Alshrafi/AP)

It is the latest instance of troops sweeping back into sections of the Gaza Strip they have previously invaded, underscoring the resilience of the militant group despite Israel’s nearly eight-month onslaught.

Witnesses and hospital officials said the pre-dawn strike hit the al-Sardi School, run by the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees known as UNRWA. The school was filled with Palestinians who had fled Israeli offensives and bombardment in northern Gaza, they said.

Ayman Rashed, a man displaced from Gaza City who was sheltering at the school, said the missiles hit classrooms on the second and third floor where families were sheltering.

The Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital in the nearby town of Deir al-Balah received at least 33 dead from the strike, including 14 children and nine women, according to hospital records and an Associated Press reporter at the hospital.

Palestinians look at the aftermath of the Israeli strike
Palestinians look at the aftermath of the Israeli strike (Abdel Kareem Hana/AP)

Another strike on a house overnight killed six people, according to the records. Both strikes occurred in Nuseirat, one of several built-up refugee camps in Gaza dating to the 1948 war surrounding Israel’s creation, when hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled or were driven from their homes in what became the new state.

Online footage showed bodies wrapped in blankets or plastic bags being laid out in lines in the courtyard of the hospital, which was largely dark as staff try to conserve limited fuel for electricity.

Mohammed al-Kareem, a displaced Palestinian sheltering near the hospital, said he saw people searching for their loved ones among the bodies, adding: “The situation is tragic.”

The Israeli military said Hamas had embedded a “compound” in the school and that Hamas and Islamic Jihad militants inside were using it as a shelter where they were planning attacks against Israeli troops.

Palestinians Israel
Palestinians mourn in front of the morgue of Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital in Deir al-Balah (Abdel Kareem Hana/AP)

Spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner said the army was not aware of any civilian casualties in the strike.

He said intelligence indicated that militants had used the compound to orchestrate some of the Hamas attacks on October 7 and that at least 20 militants there were still using it as a “staging realm” to launch attacks on Israeli soldiers.

It released a photo of the school, pointing to classrooms on the second and third floor where it claimed militants were located.

It said it took steps before the strike “to reduce the risk of harming uninvolved civilians… including conducting aerial surveillance, and additional intelligence information”.

Philippe Lazzarini, commissioner-general of UNRWA, said 6,000 people were sheltering in the school when it was hit without warning. He said UNRWA was unable to verify claims that armed groups were inside.

UNRWA schools across Gaza have functioned as shelters since the start of the war, which has driven most of the territory’s population of 2.3 million Palestinians from their homes.

Israel launched its campaign in Gaza after Hamas’s October 7 attack into Israel, in which militants killed 1,200 people and took another 250 hostage.

Israel Palestinians The Rafah Image
Displaced Palestinians inspect their tents destroyed by Israel’s bombardment of an UNRWA facility west of Rafah city (Jehad Alshrafi/AP)

Israel’s offensive has killed at least 36,000 Palestinians, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry, which does not distinguish between fighters and civilians in its figures.

Israel blames civilian deaths on Hamas because it positions fighters, tunnels and rocket launchers in residential areas.

The US has thrown its weight behind a phased ceasefire and hostage release outlined by President Joe Biden last week, but Israel says it will not end the war without destroying Hamas, while the militant group is demanding a lasting ceasefire and the full withdrawal of Israeli forces.

The military said on Wednesday that forces were operating “both above and below ground” in eastern parts of Deir al-Balah and the Bureij refugee camp in central Gaza. It said the operation began with air strikes on militant infrastructure, after which troops began a “targeted daylight operation” in both areas.

Doctors Without Borders said at least 70 bodies and 300 wounded people, mostly women and children, were taken to a hospital in central Gaza on Tuesday and Wednesday after a wave of Israeli strikes.

The international charity said on Wednesday that Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital was struggling to treat “a huge influx of patients, many of them arriving with severe burns, shrapnel wounds, fractures, and other traumatic injuries”.

By Press Association

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