At least 10 people died in a fresh strike on a UN school in Gaza yesterday, shortly after Israel confirmed it had begun withdrawing some troops from the enclave.
The strike on the school sheltering displaced Palestinians in the southern city of Rafah came as Israel pounded the region following the suspected capture of a soldier by militants, who was later declared dead.
It was the third time in 10 days that a UN school had been hit and came four days after Israeli tank shells slammed into a school in the northern town of Jabaliya, killing 16 in an attack denounced by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon as “reprehensible.”
A correspondent said there was chaos at the site, with rescuers trying to evacuate the wounded any way they could, while adults sprinted through pools of blood with young children clutched in their arms.
UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) spokesman Chris Gunness said the school had been housing thousands of internally displaced people (IDPs).
“Shelling incident in vicinity of UNRWA school in Rafah sheltering almost 3,000 IDP. Initial reports say multiple deaths and injury,” he wrote on Twitter.
Regional efforts to broker a diplomatic end to the fighting between Israel and Hamas have so far proved elusive, with their confrontation in Gaza now in its 27th day with more than 1,700 people killed.
A Palestinian delegation was to hold truce talks yesterday in Cairo with senior US and Egyptian officials, but Israel has said it sees no point in sending its negotiators to the meeting, citing what it says are Hamas breaches of previous agreed truces.
Islamic Jihad was also expected to join along with US Middle East Envoy Frank Lowenstein.
Several Israeli newspapers reported that Cabinet ministers have taken a decision not to seek a further negotiated ceasefire agreement with Hamas and were considering ending the military operation unilaterally.
Israel’s military said yesterday that it had begun withdrawing some troops from Gaza.
“We are removing some [forces],” Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner said, adding that troops were “extremely close” to completing a mission to destroy a network of reported attack tunnels.
“We are redeploying within the Gaza Strip, taking out other positions and relieving other forces from within, so it won’t be the same type of ground operation,” he said. “But indeed we will continue to operate ... [and] have a rapid reaction force on the ground that can engage Hamas if required. It’s changing gear, but it’s still ongoing.”
Israel’s assault on the southern city of Rafah began early on Friday in the opening hours of a 72-hour humanitarian truce, which was quickly shattered when militants ambushed a group of soldiers, killing two of them.
A third was reported missing, believed snatched in a development that drew sharp condemnation from top US and UN officials.
However, early yesterday, the Israeli army formally announced the death of the soldier, 23-year-old Hadar Goldin, saying he had been “killed in battle in the Gaza Strip on Friday.”
Army radio said no body had been recovered, rendering the decision to announce his death “very delicate.”
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