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UN-run School in Gaza Hit During Israeli Offensive

by VOA News July 24, 2014

International concern is mounting after a series of explosions hit the United Nations-run school in the northern Gaza Strip, killing at least 15 people and injuring dozens more.

U.N. and Gaza health officials confirmed the school at Beit Hanoun was shelled, but they could not confirm the number of casualties. The school served as a shelter for hundreds of Palestinians fleeing the Israeli military's Gaza offensive.

Gaza police said the school was hit by an Israeli shelling.

The United Nations Relief and Works agency spokesman serving the Palestinian territories, Chris Gunness, said via Twitter that his agency had given the Israeli army 'precise coordinates' of the shelter.

The Israeli Defense Forces released a statement saying 'the Hamas terrorists in the area of Beit Hanoun' were 'using civilian infrastructure and international symbols as human shields.'

State Department concern

U.S. State Department Spokesperson Jen Psaki said, 'We are deeply saddened and concerned about the tragic incident at the UN Relief and Works Agency [UNRWA] school and about the rising civilian death toll in Gaza. We convey our deepest condolences to the families of those killed and injured in this incident, as well as the UN staff. We again urge all parties to redouble their efforts to protect civilians.

'This also underscores the need to end the violence and to achieve a sustainable ceasefire and enduring resolution to the crisis in Gaza as soon as possible.

UN facilities in Gaza are sheltering more than 140,000 Palestinians, including many innocent children, and must remain safe, neutral sanctuaries for fleeing civilians. We call on all parties to protect these facilities from the conflict and we have condemn those responsible for hiding weapons in United Nations facilities in Gaza. We urge all parties to respect civilian life and comply with international humanitarian law.'

Intense fighting

Israeli strikes in Gaza continued Thursday and rockets fired by Hamas-led fighters in the enclave landed in Israel, as both sides maintained their conditions for a cease-fire. the number of Palestinians killed in the conflict surpassed 700 while the death toll in Israel rose to 35.

Israeli forces bombarded targets in the Gaza Strip and Hamas-led fighters in Gaza launched rockets and mortar shells on Israel, despite efforts by international mediators to negotiate a cease-fire.

Gaza health officials say an Israeli shell slammed into a U.N.-run school in the northern Gaza Strip, killing at least 15 people and injuring dozens more. The U.N. has confirmed the school at Beit Hanoun was hit, but could not confirm the number of casualties. The school served as a shelter for hundreds of Palestinians.

After meeting [Thursday] with British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Hamas militants are using Palestinian civilians as human shields and complained Israel is being criticized for defending itself.

'This use of human shields is extraordinarily cynical, it is grotesque. It is inhuman. But what is equally grotesque is that Israel was condemned at the Human Rights Council,' said Netanyahu.

Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal denied Wednesday the charge of human shields. During a news conference in Qatar he said Hamas would accept a temporary humanitarian truce to allow aid to reach civilians in Gaza. But he said it would not accept any agreement that did not end the suffering of Gaza residents.

Mashaal said, 'Everyone wants us to accept a cease-fire quickly, but then what? They say we then should negotiate our demands. We reject this idea. We rejected it on the first day, and we will reject it in the future.'

Hamas said Israel must lift its blockade of Gaza and cease all aggression as part of any cease-fire.

Israel says it wants Gaza to be de-militarized.

Kerry in Cairo

Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is in Cairo as he continues to push for a cease-fire solution. On Wednesday he had met with Netanyahu, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon. While he made no comments after those talks, he said earlier in the day that 'some progress' had been made.

Hamas leaders say they will not agree to a cease-fire unless Israel and Egypt end their blockades of Gaza.

Israel wants the rocket fire to stop and to destroy a network of cross-border tunnels used by militants.

FAA lifts US flight ban on Israeli airport

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration has lifted a ban on U.S. airlines flying in and out of Israel's Ben Gurion Airport, while continued fighting pushed the Palestinian death toll over 700.

​The FAA said late Wednesday it canceled the restrictions after looking at new information and steps Israel is taking to lessen the risks to passenger planes.

The flight ban went into place Tuesday after rocket fire from Gaza hit near the airport outside Tel Aviv.

VOA's Scott Bobb reporting from Jerusalem contributed to this report.

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