Israeli airstrike on UN school in Gaza said to have killed more than 30

Israel says it targeted Hamas fighters in strike on school where hospital officials say displaced Palestinians were sheltering

Alisha Rahaman Sarkar,Tom Watling
Thursday 06 June 2024 18:49 BST
A Palestinian boy stands in the UN-run school destroyed in Nuseirat
A Palestinian boy stands in the UN-run school destroyed in Nuseirat (AFP via Getty)

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An Israeli airstrike on a UN school sheltering displaced Palestinians has killed more than 30 in central Gaza.

The Israeli military said Hamas were operating from the al-Sardi School in Nuseirat, run by the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees known as UNRWA.

Video footage showed Palestinians hauling away bodies after the attack, which took place at a sensitive moment in mediated talks on a ceasefire that would involve releasing hostages held by Hamas and some of the Palestinians held in Israeli jails.

The war in Gaza was catalysed by a Hamas attack in southern Israel on 7 October, which killed 1,200 Israelis and saw more than 250 people taken hostage. The air and ground assault launched in response by Israel has killed more than 36,000 Palestinians, according to health officials in the Hamas-run enclave, and left the majority of Gaza’s 2.3 million population without a home.

Ayman Rashed, a man sheltering at the school, said multiple missiles hit classrooms on the second and third floors where families had taken refuge. He told the Associated Press that he helped carry at least five dead people, including an old man and a child.

“It was dark, with no electricity, and we struggled to get out the victims,” he said.

Palestinians check a UN school housing displaced people that was hit during Israeli bombardment in Nuseirat
Palestinians check a UN school housing displaced people that was hit during Israeli bombardment in Nuseirat (AFP via Getty)

At least 33 bodies, including 14 children and nine women, were taken to the Al-Aqsa hospital in the nearby town of Deir al-Balah according to hospital records. The head of UNRWA later said the figure was at least 35.

The Israeli military said Hamas militants had embedded a “compound” within the school. It released a photo of the school, highlighting classrooms on the second and third floor where it claimed militants were located.

The military said it had taken steps before the strike to reduce harm to civilians, including “conducting aerial surveillance, and additional intelligence information”.

“We’re very confident in the intelligence,” military spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner told reporters in a subsequent update, accusing Hamas and Islamic jihad fighters of deliberately using UN facilities as operational bases.

Lt Col Lerner said 20 to 30 fighters were located in the compound, and many of them had been killed, but had no precise details as intelligence assessments were being carried out. “I’m not aware of any civilian casualties and I’d be very, very cautious of accepting anything that Hamas puts out,” he said.

A member of the United Nations checks a UN-school housing displaced people that was hit during Israeli bombardment in Nuseirat,
A member of the United Nations checks a UN-school housing displaced people that was hit during Israeli bombardment in Nuseirat, (AFP via Getty)

UNRWA chief Philippe Lazzarini described the Israeli claims that there were armed groups inside the building as “shocking”, adding that 6,000 displaced people had been sheltering inside the school at the time of the strike.

”At least 35 people were killed and many more injured,” he wrote on Twitter/X. “Claims that armed groups may have been inside the shelter are shocking. We are however unable to verify these claims. Attacking, targeting or using UN buildings for military purposes are a blatant disregard of international humanitarian law.”

Video from the hospital showed people fanatically searching for their loved ones among the bodies wrapped in blankets or plastic bags laid out in lines.

Israel recently announced a new military campaign in central Gaza. Israel has said there will be no halt to fighting during ceasefire talks.

“Any negotiations with Hamas would be conducted only under fire,” Israel defence minister Yoav Gallant said in remarks carried by Israeli media after he flew aboard a warplane to inspect the Gaza front earlier this week.

The Israeli military on Wednesday said 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 airstrikes on militant infrastructure, after which troops began a “targeted daylight operation” in both areas.

Another overnight strike in Nuseirat killed six members of a house, according to the health ministry in Gaza.

Additional reporting by Reuters and the Associated Press

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