Shelling by the Israel Defense Forces has killed several people seeking refuge at a compound housing a UN school in Gaza. World leaders have pressed for a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas.
On Thursday, Gaza Health Ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Qedra said 15 people - including seven children - had died after tanks from the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) shelled the UN school where they had sought shelter.
The attack was also said to have injured at least 150 people. The director of a local hospital said various medical centers around the city of Beit Hanoun had begun receiving the wounded.
"Such a massacre requires more than one hospital to deal with it," Ayman Hamdan, the director of the Beit Hanoun hospital, said on Thursday.
Health Ministry spokesman Qedra said that airstrikes and fighting had killed more than 60 people in Gaza since midnight, including a family of six, which would take the total number of Palestinian casualties in 17 days of bloodshed to nearly 800, with few signs of the conflict letting up. The number of injured in Gaza has risen to more than 4,500.
On Thursday, a spokesman for the UNRWA, the Palestinian refugee agency, wrote on Twitter that IDF officials had been told the school was a civilian shelter. "Precise co-ordinates of the UNRWA shelter had been formally given to the Israeli army, " Chriss Gunness wrote on Twitter. A minute later, he wrote: "Over the course of the day, UNRWA tried to coordinate with the Israeli Army a window for civilians to leave & it was never granted."
The IDF has reported that its troop losses rose to 32 with the deaths of three more soldiers killed in combat inside Gaza on Wednesday. A Thai farm laborer killed when a rocket fired from Gaza struck a greenhouse in southern Israel brought to three the civilian death toll in Israel, with scores injured.
On Thursday, Israel's Iron Dome anti-rocket batteries downed five missiles shot from Gaza, including near Tel Aviv, a military spokeswoman said. Many airlines have resumed flights into the city after fears that rockets from Gaza could reach the Ben Gurion Airport, Israel's main international entry point.
The IDF also reported that soldiers had fought with several groups of militants as the army continued efforts to destroy tunnels that attackers from Gaza allegedly use to sneak into Israel. So far, the IDF has reported that soldiers have discovered 31 tunnels and blown up nine of them.
'Terrible, terrible situation'
Thursday's incident became the fourth time that the IDF has hit a UN facility. The UNRWA has reported that it has found rockets hidden by militants inside two vacant schools. Since the beginning of Israel's offensive, more than 141,000 Palestinians have sought refuge in more than 80 schools operated by the UNWRA, the body announced.
Speaking from a meeting in Tokyo ahead of Thursday's attack, Valerie Amo, the UN's undersecretary for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief, described the fighting in Gaza as a "terrible, terrible situation," adding that "so many children have been killed as a result of the violence in the last few days."
From exile in Qatar, Hamas leader Khaled Meshal has rejected any truce without the lifting of Israel's seven-year blockade on Gaza. Several world leaders have tried unsuccessfully so far to broker a ceasefire.
On Wednesday, the UN Human Rights Council announced that it would open an inquiry into possible war crimes by Israel in the Gaza Strip.
mkg/rc (Reuters, AFP, dpa, AP)