June 16, 2024

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An Israeli raid kills at least 33 people at a Gaza school that the army claims is used by Hamas.

An Israeli raid kills at least 33 people at a Gaza school that the army claims is used by Hamas.

DEIR BALAH, Gaza Strip — An Israeli raid early Thursday on a school housing displaced Palestinians in the central Gaza Strip killed at least 33 people, including 12 women and children, according to local health officials. The Israeli army said that Hamas activists were operating from inside the school.

This is the latest example of large numbers of casualties among Palestinians trying to seek shelter as Israel expands its offensive. The previous day, the army announced a new ground and air attack in central Gaza to pursue Hamas activists, who it says have regrouped there.

The forces returned repeatedly to parts of the Gaza Strip that they had previously invaded, confirming the steadfastness of the armed movement despite the Israeli attack that has been ongoing for nearly eight months.

Witnesses and hospital officials said the pre-dawn raid hit the Sardi School, which is run by the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees. They added that the school was full of Palestinians who fled the Israeli operations and bombing of northern Gaza.

The hospital initially reported that nine women and 14 children were among those killed in the raid on the school. The hospital morgue later amended those records to show that the dead were three women, nine children and 21 men. The reason for this discrepancy was not immediately clear.

Separate raids in central Gaza killed a further 15 people, almost all of them men.

Ayman Rashid, a displaced man from Gaza City who was taking shelter at the school, said the missiles hit classrooms on the second and third floors where families were taking shelter. He said he helped carry out five deaths, including an old man and two children. Rashid said: “It was completely dark, the electricity was cut off, and we were struggling to get the victims out.”

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“accurate hit”

Admiral Daniel Hagari, an IDF spokesman, said the army carried out a “precision strike” based on concrete intelligence that militants were planning and carrying out attacks from inside three classrooms. He said that only those rooms were attacked.

He said: “We carried out the raid when our intelligence and surveillance information indicated that there were no women or children inside the Hamas compound, inside those classrooms.”

Hajjari said there were about 30 suspected militants in the three rooms. He added that the army confirmed the killing of nine of them and showed a slide showing their names and photos. No other evidence was provided to substantiate the army’s claims.

Omar Al-Dirawi, a photographer working for Agence France-Presse, said that those injured in the raid arrived at Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital in nearby Deir Al-Balah, which was already crowded with a continuous stream of ambulances since the incursion into central Gaza began 24 hours ago. the hospital.

Videos circulating on the Internet showed several wounded people receiving treatment on the hospital floor, a common sight in crowded medical wards in Gaza. Power was cut to much of the hospital as staff rationed fuel supplies for the generator.

Palestinians look at the aftermath of the Israeli raid on a UN-run school that killed dozens of people in the Nuseirat refugee camp in the Gaza Strip, Thursday.
Palestinians look at the aftermath of the Israeli raid on a UN-run school that killed dozens of people in the Nuseirat refugee camp in the Gaza Strip, Thursday. (Photography: Jihad Al-Sharafi, Associated Press)

“You can’t walk into the hospital, there are too many people. Women from the victims’ families gather in the corridors and cry,” he said.

The school was located in Nuseirat, one of several refugee camps built in Gaza dating back to the 1948 war that followed the creation of Israel, when hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled or were expelled from their homes in what became the new state.

Video footage showed bodies wrapped in blankets or plastic bags lying in rows in the hospital courtyard. Muhammad al-Karim, a displaced Palestinian who lives near the hospital, said he saw people searching for their loved ones among the bodies, and that a woman kept asking medical workers to open the covers of the bodies to see if her son was inside.

“The situation is tragic,” he said.

“Tragic accident”

Philippe Lazzarini, Commissioner-General of the United Nations Agency for Palestinian Refugees, said in a post on the social media platform X that 6,000 people were taking shelter at the school when it was bombed without warning. He added that the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees was unable to verify allegations of the presence of armed groups inside.

UN refugee schools across Gaza have served as shelters since the beginning of the war, which expelled most of the Strip’s 2.3 million Palestinians from their homes.

Last week, Israeli aircraft bombed a site near a UN refugee facility in the southern city of Rafah, saying they were targeting Hamas activists. A fire swept through nearby tents housing displaced families, killing at least 45 people. The deaths sparked international outrage, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the fire was the result of a “tragic accident.” The army said the fire may have been caused by secondary explosions. The cause of the explosions has not been determined.

Israel sent forces to Rafah in early May in what it said was a limited incursion, but those forces are now operating in the central parts of the city. More than a million people have fled Rafah since the start of the operation, spreading across southern and central Gaza in new camps or crowding into schools and homes.

Israel launched its crackdown on Gaza after a Hamas attack on Israel on October 7, during which militants killed about 1,200 people and took 250 others hostage. The Israeli attack led to the death of at least 36,000 Palestinians, according to the Ministry of Health in Gaza, which does not distinguish between combatants and civilians in its numbers.

Israel blames the deaths of civilians on Hamas because it deploys fighters, tunnels and rocket launchers in residential areas.

The United States has thrown its weight behind the interim 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 armed group demands a permanent ceasefire and a complete withdrawal of Israeli forces.

Far-right members of Netanyahu’s government threatened to bring down the coalition if he signed the ceasefire agreement.