GAZA CITY: Fifteen Palestinians were killed Thursday when an Israeli shell slammed into a UN shelter where hundreds of civilians had taken refuge, sending the death toll in Gaza soaring to 788 despite world efforts to broker a ceasefire.
The strike hit a UN school sheltering some of the 100,000 Palestinians driven from their homes in search of a safe haven after weeks of indiscriminate Israeli bombardment of the besieged coastal territory. The shell crashed down in the middle of the courtyard where people had set up camp, leaving the ground covered in bloodstains. Gaza’s emergency services said at least 15 people had been killed and more than 200 wounded, sending the Palestinian death toll from 17 days of fighting to 788 and injured to 5,000.
UN chief Ban Ki-Moon said: “Many have been killed – including women and children, as well as UN staff.” He said he was “appalled” by the news and “strongly condemned” the attack which he said “underscores the imperative for the killing to stop – and to stop now”. Washington said it was “deeply saddened and concerned about the tragic incident”, without explicitly blaming its ally Israel for the shelling. “We again urge all parties to redouble their efforts to protect civilians,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in Cairo, where Secretary of State John Kerry is trying to negotiate a ceasefire.
Kerry reached out to Hamas allies Turkey and Qatar on Thursday as he sought to further regional efforts to broker an end to the bloodshed. The US diplomat is seeking to garner support for an Egyptian-drafted proposal and an aide said he had spoken to his counterparts in Doha and Ankara in the hope they would use their influence to encourage Hamas to accept the plan. Hamas has rejected the proposal so far, with its exiled leader Khaled Meshaal saying late Wednesday that there could be no halt to the fighting without an end to Israel’s eight-year blockade on Gaza first.
The Egyptian plan calls for a ceasefire first and talks afterwards on a long-term solution to Gaza’s problems. There was no let-up in Israeli bombardment of besieged Gaza Strip, however, with most of Thursday’s 93 victims killed in and around Khuzaa, a flashpoint area east of Khan Yunis which has been the site of intensive fighting since Tuesday. But the biggest single strike was at the school in the north, where the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) said it had been trying to coordinate with the army over the evacuation of civilians, without success.
Although UNRWA did not immediately give its own toll, spokesman Chris Gunness said there were “multiple dead and injured” after an Israeli tank shell hit a UN school being used as a shelter. An AFP correspondent saw nine bodies, including that of a year-old baby and his mother at a nearby mortuary. “We’ve spent much of the day trying to negotiate or to coordinate a window so that civilians, including our staff, could leave,” Gunness said.
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