Dozens killed in Israeli strike on UN school, witnesses say

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

Israel bombed a UN school sheltering displaced Palestinians in central Gaza in the early hours of Thursday morning, killing at least 30 people including five children, hospital authorities said.

The Israeli military said the airstrike targeted terrorists who took part in the 7 October attacks and were planning imminent attacks on troops in the area.

The airstrike came as Israel escalated its military operations in central Gaza, and soon after another strike on a home in Deir al-Balah killed at least six people.

Victims’ bodies were taken to al-Aqsa hospital, according to medical records and an Associated Press reporter at the site. Medics there were already struggling to deal with an increase in casualties, the charity Médicins Sans Frontières (MSF) said.

The strike hit al-Sardi school at about 1.30am, when people sheltering there were asleep, the journalist Hind Khoudary said in a video taken at the school that shows pools of blood beside mattresses in a room hit by a missile.

In the courtyard below children and adults mill around, near balconies hung with bedding and washing. “Children, women are terrified, but unfortunately they don’t have anywhere to go. They are still sheltering in the school,” she said.

The Israeli military said in a statement that it hit the school to target “Hamas and Islamic Jihad terrorists … who were operating in the compound”. In a statement it said “several” were eliminated.

“A number of steps were taken to reduce the risk of harming uninvolved civilians during the strike, including conducting aerial surveillance, and additional intelligence information,” the statement said.

The prewar school and the current shelter operation are both run by Unrwa, the UN refugee agency for Palestinians. It has sheltered up to 1.7 million Palestinian civilians displaced during the war.

At least 455 of them have been killed in Unrwabuildings, and almost 1,500 wounded, the agency said this week.

Hamas officials said its forces were not operating from the school, the AP reported.

On Wednesday, Israel said its forces were operating “both above and below ground” in central Gaza.

At least 70 dead people and more than 300 wounded were brought in to al-Aqsa treatment centre that day, MSF said, pushing the battered medical system in the area to the point of collapse.

With the Rafah crossing to Egypt closed, there are no longer medical evacuations for the most severely injured.

Two of the children laid out dead in al-Aqsa hospital after previous strikes had died beside their mother, their father, Abu Mohammed Abu Saif, told Reuters. “This is not war, it is destruction that words are unable to express,” he said.

Israel’s military assault on Gaza has killed more than 36,000 people, according to health officials in the territory, who say thousands more dead are feared buried under the rubble. The war was sparked by an attack by Hamas in southern Israel in October last year, killing about 1,200 people.

On Wednesday two new food security reports reported that many Palestinians in Gaza had been killed by months of extreme hunger while permanent damage had been caused to children through malnutrition, even before famine is officially declared.

The US-based famine early warning system network (Fews Net) said it was “possible, if not likely” that famine began in northern Gaza in April. Two UN organisations said more than 1 million people were “expected to face death and starvation” by mid-July.

Israel has blocked the entry of much aid and fuel to Gaza, and cut off most of the water supply.

Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has meanwhile threatened an “extremely powerful” response to attacks by Hezbollah from Lebanon, which have escalated in recent days and set off huge fires in northern Israel.