An apparent Israeli strike Thursday afternoon on a school sheltering Gaza residents who evacuated their homes killed and injured “multiple” people, according to the local director of the United Nations agency that is operating the shelter.
The Palestinian ministry of health in Gaza said that 10 people had been killed and that “a large number” had been wounded at the school in Beit Hanoun, in the northern Gaza Strip. Unofficial death toll estimated is 30.
A spokesman for the Israeli military had no immediate information about the event and said he was looking into the matter.
This was the third time that shelters set up in schools have been struck during the current conflict. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency, which is helping Palestinians displaced by the conflict, said that more than 140,000 residents of Gaza were now staying in 83 schools where it runs shelters.
“We’re extremely concerned now that if this trend continues we will see a mass casualty event,” said Robert Turner, the director of Gaza operations for the agency, citing two incidents from the Gaza conflict in 2008-2009 in which eight people were killed when a shelter was hit and 40 people were killed in a separate strike outside a school.
“It would take just one errant shell into one of these institutions to have major casualties,” Mr. Turner said “They are packed and the people came there specifically seeking refuge because they feel safer in a U.N. installation.”
Mr. Turner said he had few details about the latest strike in Beit Hanoun, because when he went to investigate, “we got a hostile reception.”
On Wednesday morning, Mr. Turner said, a school with 2,000 people in it in Deir el Balah in the center of this coastal territory was struck in what was believed to be a drone attack. On Tuesday, a boy was injured by an artillery shell at a school in the Mughazi refugee camp, and when United Nations workers went in to investigate — after being told by Israeli authorities they had a two-hour window in which it would be safe to operate — there was more shelling, Mr. Turner said, though no one was injured.
“We’re concerned that these messages are either not being passed, or if they are being passed they are not being implemented as we would like,” he said of coordination between the Israelis charged with civilian protection and the military. “We’re not questioning the good will and hard work of the people” working with the United Nations, he added, “but we’re concerned about coordination and translation into action on the ground.”
Israeli officials have said schools are among the places where militants store and launch rockets. Twice during this conflict rockets have been discovered at U.N.W.R.A. shelters at schools. Some Israelis have complained that the U.N. agency personnel turned the rockets over to the security services affiliated with Hamas.
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