ISRAELI tank shells slammed into a crowded United Nations school sheltering Gazans displaced by fighting, killing 17 and wounding 90 after tearing through the walls of two classrooms.
Airstrikes and shelling killed more than 100 Palestinians across the coastal territory throughout yesterday, including those killed at the school and multiple members of two families struck in their homes, health officials said.
The Israeli Defence Force said mortar shells had been fired from near the school, and that soldiers fired back.
The morning attack was followed by a second strike late yesterday afternoon on a packed fruit and vegetable market in Shejaiya, east of Gaza City, where hundreds were shopping.
Eyewitnesses spoke of smoke billowing over the market and ambulances racing victims to hospital. At least one journalist, who worked for a local news agency, was reported killed.
The military had declared a four-hour ceasefire in parts of Gaza beginning at 3pm.
But Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said it lacked any “value” because it excluded border areas from where Hamas wanted to evacuate wounded.
The Israeli military said Palestinians fired several rockets after the start of the pause, and that its forces were still working to demolish tunnels.
Yesterday, Israeli aircraft dropped leaflets over Gaza City’s Rimal neighbourhood, urging residents to stay away from Hamas militants and to report possible rocket launches.
The leaflet gave a phone number and e-mail and warned of a new operation.
The latest violence further dimmed hopes of a sustainable truce in the fighting, now in its fourth week.
The strike at the UN school in the Jebaliya refugee camp came on the heels of Israel’s heaviest air and artillery assault so far in the conflict.
Israel escalated its campaign on Tuesday, with airstrikes destroying symbols of Hamas power, including the home of a Hamas leader.
Gaza’s only power plant was shut down after shells set its fuel tank on fire.
Then yesterday, Israeli aircraft struck dozens of Gaza sites, including five mosques it said were being used by militants, while several other areas came under tank fire.
The UN is sheltering more than 200,000 people displaced by the fighting at dozens of schools across the coastal strip.
Assad Sabah said he and his five children were huddling under desks in one of the classrooms because of the constant sound of tank fire.
“We were scared to death,” he said. “After 4:30am, tanks started firing more. Three explosions shook the school.
“One classroom collapsed over the head of the people who were inside.”
About two hours after the strike, hundreds of people still crowded the school courtyard, some dazed, others wailing.
Aishe Abu Darabeh, 56, sat on the ground with her relatives.
“Where will we go?” she asked. “Where will we go next? We fled and [the Israelis] are following us.”
Four of the dead were killed outside the school compound, two in their home nearby and two in the street, after returning from pre-dawn prayers, their relatives said.
The bodies of two members of the al-Najar family, 56-year-old Shaher and his 41-year-old brother, Bassem, were laid out in one of the rooms of their small home, surrounded by wailing relatives.
Chris Gunness, a spokesman for the UN Palestinian refugee agency, said the international community must step in.
“We appealed incessantly to the political echelons with power to reduce and end the violence. We warned. Our voice was not heard. It is time for others to honour their international law responsibilities to deal with consequences on civilians of their military decisions,” he said.
The total number of Palestinians killed since the 8 July start of fighting rose to 1,331, said a Gaza health official. More than 7,100 have been wounded.
Israel has lost 53 soldiers and three civilians.
Israel says its Gaza operation is meant to stop Hamas rocket and mortar fire that has reached increasingly deeper into its territory and to destroy a network of tunnels used for attacks inside Israel.
Gaza militants have fired more than 2,600 rockets, according to the Israeli army.
Over the past 23 days, Israeli forces have hit 4,100 targets in Gaza, about one-third connected to the militants’ ability to launch rockets at Israel, the military added.