The Israeli military pushed deeper into the Gaza Strip, targeting new sites from north to south, as an attack on a United Nations school claimed the lives of 20 people who had taken shelter there, officials said.
“I strongly condemn today’s Israeli shelling of @UNRWA school in Jabalia#Gaza,” Pierre Krahenbuhl, commissioner- general of the UN Relief and Works Agency, said on Twitter. In a separate post he said: “Children, women and men killed & injured as they slept in place where they should have been safe and protected. They were not. Intolerable.”
The military said its preliminary investigation indicated troops were responding to mortar shells fired at them from the vicinity of the school in the Jabaliya refugee camp. The incident is still being reviewed, a military spokeswoman said by phone on condition of anonymity in line with regulations. Ashraf al-Qedra, a spokesman for the Gaza Health Ministry, and Adnan Abu Hasna, a UNRWA spokesman, said 20 people were killed.
The third major military showdown between the sides in less than six years has claimed the lives of almost 1,300 Palestinians, most of them civilians, and wounded more than 7,000 more. Fifty-six people have died on the Israeli side, all but three of them soldiers. Previous truce deals failed to prevent the proliferation of arms in Gaza or meet Hamas’s demand that Israel end its blockade of the territory, which was initiated in 2006 and joined by Egypt.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told his country on July 28 to brace for an extended campaign and defended its right to operate against rocket fire and tunnels militants built to infiltrate Israel.
Today, military spokesman Brigadier-General Moti Almoz told Army Radio that forces were moving deeper inside Gaza all across the territory, taking control of new areas. The military said in an e-mailed statement that it has struck about 4,100 targets inside Gaza since the fighting began July 8.
Overnight, the army carried out more than 75 assaults inside the territory, including five mosques it said were used to conceal weapons and house access shafts to infiltration tunnels, according to the statement. Militants have fired almost 3,000 rockets and mortars during the conflict, the military said.
Robert Turner, UNRWA’s Gaza director, said a survey of the damage and recovered fragments suggest artillery fire hit the UN school in Jabaliya. About 3,300 people who had taken sanctuary there earlier in the fighting were inside at the time, he said.
Israel’s financial markets have shrugged off the violence, with the shekel little changed at 3.4290 per dollar and the benchmark TA-25 index advancing 1.5 percent since the conflict began.
Efforts to end the violence have come up short, defying appeals by President Barack Obama and UN chief Ban Ki-moon for an immediate cessation of the hostilities. A bid by the U.S., UN and Egypt to broker a truce last week failed to win agreement on anything deeper than an hours-long humanitarian halt over the weekend.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who spearheaded those talks, told reporters yesterday he’s still in regular contact with Netanyahu as truce efforts continue.
Obstacles to a truce include Israel’s demand for the demilitarization of Gaza and Hamas’s insistence on an end to Israel’s blockade of the territory, initiated in 2006 and joined by Egypt. Israel, like the U.S. and European Union, labels Hamas a terrorist organization, and says it uses civilians as human shields.
Hamas’s military commander ruled out a truce unless the blockade is lifted, in an audio statement broadcast late yesterday on the group’s Al-Aqsa television. Hamas’s armed wing, the Ezzedeen al-Qassam Brigades, can withstand the Israeli offensive, Mohammed Deif said.
“The balances of power now are different and the gun battles showed that the Palestinian armed resistance is stronger and more powerful than the army of the enemy,” Deif said. The Hamas military chief, who has been wounded in Israeli assassination attempts, has been living in hiding for years and rarely makes statements.
El Salvador, Peru and Chile recalled their ambassadors for consultations over the violence. The Israeli Foreign Ministry expressed “deep disappointment” with the decision, saying it “constitutes encouragement for Hamas, a group recognized as a terror organization by many countries around the world.”
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