Israeli shells hit school in Gaza, flagrant violation of Geneva Conventions

Gaza City, July 30, IRNA -- Israeli artillery fire hit a United Nations-run school serving as a shelter in northern Gaza early Wednesday, killing at least 16 Palestinians taking refuge there, UN Relief and Works Agency official Christopher Gunness said disgraced the world community.

Witnesses said at least two shells landed at Abu Hussein school, located in the middle of the Jabaliya refugee camp, around 4:30 a.m., hitting the stairway and a classroom, in flagrant violation of the Geneva Conventions.

Jabaliya, the most densely populated area in the Gaza Strip, has come under artillery fire since Tuesday afternoon. The shelling has killed at least 50 people there in the past 24 hours, according to the health ministry.

The streets of Jabaliya are packed with people who fled their homes in the eastern and northern Gaza Strip after the beginning of the Israeli ground invasion.

Robert Turner, the Gaza-based director of the UNRWA, which owns the school and was operating the shelter, said “at least three explosive projectiles” hit before dawn on Wednesday, when about 3,300 people were at the site.

Turner said the agency had provided the GPS coordinates of the Jabaliya school to Tel Aviv 17 times, starting July 16 and most recently Tuesday at 8:48 p.m., to ensure it would be protected.

“These people were in this school because they’d been told by Israel to leave where they came from,” said Mr. Turner, whose agency is using 85 schools to house more than 200,000 Palestinians, most of whom had received evacuation notices. Among those killed was a United Nations security guard. “

We’ve been on site, we’re gathered evidence, we’ve looked at the trajectory and we’re confident it was Israeli artillery fire,” Mr. Turner said.

He added that as many as seven school-shelters may have been struck since Israel’s ground invasion began on July 17, though he was still checking reports that one in the Shati refugee camp and another in the Gaza City neighborhood of Mamouniya were hit overnight.

“What we’ve seen in our shelters is indicative of what we’ve seen more generally,” Mr. Turner said.

“When they started naval bombardment, artillery and tank fire, that’s just not as accurate as airstrikes. “They can’t see what they’re shooting at, so we’ve seen more destruction, more damage, more death.”

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency, which in calm times provides education, health care and other services to about 70 percent of Gaza’s 1.8 million residents who are classified as refugees, has found rockets in three of its empty schools during the conflict, most recently on Tuesday.

He said officials were not able to gain access to the school on Tuesday because of fighting nearby, but that unlike the other two cases, they did not plan to turn them over to Gaza-based security officials, which had prompted criticism.

“We’ll try to render them safe or cordon them off,” Mr. Turner said.

Robert Serry, the United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East peace process, released a statement Wednesday saying that his agency’s compound in Gaza had also been hit early Tuesday morning “by a number of projectiles which caused damage to the main building and to United Nations vehicles.”

A preliminary assessment showed five strikes on the compound and two on the ground outside, the statement said.

Mr. Serry “is deeply concerned about this incident and other violations of United Nations premises during the conflict,” said the statement.

“We have to remind relevant parties to the conflict of their responsibility to protect United Nations operations, personnel and premises which must remain inviolable.”

Also at dawn Wednesday, an Israeli airplane fired a missile at the al-Astal family council in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip, killing 10 people from the extended family, according to local reports and the Health Ministry.

The Israeli military denied responsibility for 16 deaths at a different United Nations school serving as a shelter, in Beit Hanoun, last week, saying that the only piece of Israeli ordnance to hit the school compound, an errant mortar, struck when the courtyard was empty. Witnesses have said they heard four or five booms as hundreds milled in the courtyard, preparing to evacuate the school.

The Geneva-based UN Human Rights Commission held emergency meeting on July 23 to examine the war crimes Israel perpetrated in Gaza since July 8.

UN Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay said that there is strong possibility that Israeli bombardment of the civilian targets in Gaza violates the international law.

Since the current operation began on July 8, the Israeli military statement said, Israel has hit 4,100 sites in Gaza.

The Palestinian Health Ministry put the Palestinian death toll from the past three weeks of fighting at 1,258, many of them civilians. On the Israeli side, 56 had died as of Tuesday evening, 53 of them soldiers.