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Ten dead in strike on school in new Gaza fighting

GAZA/JERUSALEM: An Israeli air strike killed at least 10 people and wounded about 30 others on Sunday in a U.N.-run school in the southern Gaza Strip, a Palestinian official said, as dozens died in Israeli shelling of the enclave and Hamas fired rockets at Israel.

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The Israeli military said it was looking into the reported attack, the second to hit a school in less than a week.

Israeli media, on the 27th day of the fighting, reported that most Israeli troops had pulled out of Gaza, and Reuters TV footage showed a column of Israeli tanks and dozens of infantrymen leaving the enclave.

An Israeli military spokesman stopped short of calling the move a withdrawal, but said residents from a number of evacuated Palestinian neighbourhoods had been told by the army they could return.

“The troops are in the midst of a redeployment to other parts of the border,” said Lieutenant-Colonel Peter Lerner. “Indeed we are releasing troops from the front line but the mission is ongoing. Ground forces are operating. Air forces are operating.”

In the town of Rafah, where the military has been battling militants, a missile from an Israeli aircraft struck the entrance to the school, where Palestinians who had fled their homes were sheltering, witnesses and medics said.

Ashraf Al-Qidra, spokesman for the Gaza health ministry, said 10 people were killed and 30 wounded.

Adnan Abu Hasna, spokesman for the U.N. Relief and Works Agency in Gaza, said: “It is believed that there was an air strike that hit outside the gate of an UNRWA school, a designated shelter for at least 3,000 displaced residents.”

“There were multiple dead and injuries inside and outside the school, including an UNRWA staffer,” he said.

Last Wednesday, at least 15 Palestinians who sought refuge in a U.N.-run school in Jabalya refugee camp were killed during fighting, and the U.N. said it appeared that Israeli artillery had hit the building. The Israeli military said gunmen had fired mortar bombs from near the school and it shot back in response.

PRESSURE

Earlier on Sunday, Israeli shelling killed at least 30 people in Gaza, a day after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to keep up pressure on Hamas even after the army completes its core mission of destroying a tunnel network that extends into Israel.

Netanyahu says Gaza’s dominant Hamas faction bears ultimate responsibility for civilian casualties, accusing gunmen and rocket-launching squads of using residents in densely populated areas as “human shields”.

In Rafah, Fatah faction leader and local resident Ashraf Goma said Israeli forces were bombarding the town from air, ground and sea and locals were unable to deal with the wounded and the dead.

“Bodies of the wounded are bleeding in the streets and other corpses are laid on the road with no one able to recover them.

“I saw a man on a donkey cart bringing seven bodies into the hospital. Bodies are being kept in ice-cream refrigerators, in flower and vegetable coolers,” Goma told Reuters.

An Israeli army spokeswoman said that so far on Sunday at least 13 rockets were fired from Gaza at Israel. One was intercepted by Israel’s anti-missile system and the rest landed in open areas.

TRUCE EFFORTS

In Cairo, efforts to find a new truce were due to resume on Sunday.

A delegation from Palestinian militant groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad arrived in the Egyptian capital, but a quick breakthrough seemed unlikely in the absence of Israeli representatives.

After accusing Hamas of breaching a U.S.- and U.N.-brokered ceasefire on Friday, Israel said it would not send envoys as scheduled.

In Gaza, Israel intensified attacks in the area of Rafah along the border with Egypt, where 23-year-old officer Hadar Goldin was feared captured there on Friday shortly after what was to have been a 72-hour truce began.

The military later said Goldin, who was dragged by militants into a tunnel after two of his comrades were killed by a suicide bomber, had also died in action.

“The findings on the ground, the items that we found led us to the conclusion that he was killed in the initial attack,” Lerner, the military spokesman, said.

More than 30 tunnels and dozens of access shafts have been unearthed and were being blown up.

“We have proceeded with the mission in order to eliminate those (tunnels) that we have found and we expect to complete that within a short period of time, probably within the next 24 hours or so,” he said.

Israel began its air and naval offensive against Gaza on July 8 following a surge of cross-border rocket salvoes by Hamas and other guerrillas, later escalating the operation into ground incursions.

The fighting on Sunday pushed the Gaza death toll given by Palestinian officials to 1,726, most of them civilians. Israel has confirmed that 64 soldiers have died in combat, while Palestinian rockets have also killed three civilians in Israel.

At least 30 Palestinians in Rafah were killed by Israeli fire on Sunday, including nine from the same family, hospital officials said.

CAIRO TALKS

The talks in Cairo, without Israeli participation, were unlikely to produce any breakthrough, as Israel and Hamas’ positions remain far apart.

Israel says it wants Gaza demilitarized under any long-term arrangement. Hamas, sworn to Israel’s destruction, demands Israel withdraw its troops and a lifting of Israeli and Egyptian blockades that have choked Gaza’s economy.

Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, a member of Netanyahu’s decision-making security cabinet, said any agreement on the issue was still far off.

“You want to talk about lifting the blockade? Not with us, and not now,” she told the news website Ynet.

Crowded Gazan towns close to the Israeli border have seen destructive clashes and the flight of tens of thousands of Palestinians as tanks and troops swept in to confront dug-in guerrillas.

The United Nations said 460,000 people had been displaced by the fighting – nearly a quarter of Gaza’s population.

Britain believes the situation in the Gaza Strip has become intolerable, Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said. He told the Daily Telegraph he was receiving thousands of emails from Britons “deeply disturbed” at events in Gaza. – Reuters 

 

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