IDF: Hamas Militants Fired Shells From Inside UN School

The Israel Defense Forces bombed an UNRWA school in Gaza yesterday after militants fired mortars at troops from inside the school, the IDF Spokesman's Office said last night. The bodies of militants were found inside, it added.

Yesterday afternoon, three shells hit Fakhura, a girls elementary school near the Jabalya refugee camp, according to UNRWA spokesman Christopher Gunness. At least 30 people were killed and 55 wounded, 15 of them seriously, and UNRWA fears the death toll will rise.

Fakhura, like many other UNRWA schools, was serving as a refuge for people who had been forced to flee their homes.

This comes on a day when one IDF soldier was killed and 14 were wounded in Gaza fighting.

"The initial examination conducted with forces operating in the area shows that mortar shells were fired from within the school at IDF forces. The IDF returned fire," the IDF Spokesman's Office said, adding, "In the past Hamas has fired at Israeli troops from within the school, making cynical use of civilians."

The casualties included Hamas militants Imad and Hassan Abu Askar, both of whom had fired mortar shells at troops from the school, the spokesman said.

UNRWA is demanding an independent investigation and the indictment of anyone found to have violated international law. Many of the victims have still not been identified.

This is the second UNRWA school the IDF has shelled in 24 hours.

About 15 hours before Fakhura was shelled, at about midnight on Monday, the IDF fired a missile at UNRWA's Asma school, in the Shati refugee camp north of Gaza City, killing three members of the Al-Sultan family - Hussein, 24, Abed, 19, and Rawhi, 25 - as they emerged from the toilets in the courtyard.

Gunness said that UNRWA gave the IDF the coordinates of all of the 23 schools that are serving as refuges for the 14,000 people forced to flee their homes. Each of the schools hit yesterday housed about 400 people.

Since beginning its ground operation on Saturday evening, the IDF has dropped leaflets warning people to leave large swathes of relatively open territory in northern Gaza. According to residents, it has also shelled houses and dropped gas grenades and small incendiary bombs to get people to flee these areas.

The effort succeeded, and people have fled in large numbers.

"Farmers in northern Gaza abandoned their houses under pressure of the approaching shelling and scattered through the streets of northern Gaza, weeping and cursing and shouting," an eyewitness said. "They have nowhere to go, the have no relatives in the cities. They are afraid that any moment, a shell, missile or bomb will fall on them."

That is why UNRWA opened its schools to the refugees. As John Ging, head of UNRWA's Gaza operation, also said yesterday, they have nowhere else to go.

In another incident yesterday, 13 members of the Al-Daiya family were killed when their house in Gaza City's Zeitoun neighborhood was hit by a shell or bomb. Eight other family members were missing. It is not yet clear why the house was bombed.

In another house in Zeitoun, 20 members of the Samouni family, five of them wounded, were trapped for the third day yesterday, alongside the bodies of 30 other family members killed when another IDF shell struck their house on Monday.

In other fighting, a soldier was killed and four were lightly wounded yesterday in clashes with Hamas in northern Gaza City. The soldiers reported casualties among the Hamas gunmen as well.

Staff Sgt. Alexander Mashvitski, 21 from Be'er Sheva, was part of a combat Engineering Corps unit that was removing explosives placed by Hamas. He was killed by Hamas gunmen during an operation with the Golani Brigade.

The IDF has strengthened its control over positions around Gaza City. The fiercest battles are currently in eastern Gaza City, on the outskirts of Sajaiyeh and the Jabalya refugee camps, and in the northern part of the Strip.

Another six soldiers were wounded in clashes with Hamas in the Tatra refugee camp, north of Gaza City, and were evacuated by sea for medical treatment.

Ground forces operating primarily in northern Gaza, with aerial assistance, attacked about 40 Hamas targets yesterday, including eight underground tunnels, a vehicle loaded with a anti-aircraft missiles, more than 10 groups of Hamas gunmen, and five rocket-launching sites, the IDF said.

The Israel Air Force, which is continuing to attack targets throughout the Strip, hit dozens of weapons caches hidden in the homes of Hamas operatives, along with two weapon-making sites and a training camp.

Divisional commanders believe Hamas is not well-organized at this point, and instead is deploying small units to attack IDF forces.