Israeli strike on UN school in Gaza 'kills at least 35'


Witnesses and local journalists said missiles hit classrooms on upper floors of the UN school

Rushdi Abu Alouf, George Wright, David Gritten

An Israeli air strike on a UN school packed with hundreds of displaced Palestinians in central Gaza has reportedly killed at least 35 people.

Local journalists told the BBC that a warplane fired two missiles at classrooms on the top floor of the school in the urban Nuseirat refugee camp. Videos showed the destruction and a number of bodies.

Israel’s military said it had “conducted a precise strike on a Hamas compound” in the school and killed many of the 20 to 30 fighters it believed were inside.

Gaza’s Hamas-run Government Media Office denied the claim and accused Israel of carrying out a “horrific massacre”.

Dead and wounded people were rushed to the al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Hospital, in the nearby town of Deir al-Balah which has been overwhelmed since the Israeli military began a new ground operation against Hamas in central Gaza this week.

The circumstances of the strike in Nuseirat are still unclear and the BBC is working to verify the information coming in.

Local journalists and residents said it took place in the early hours of Thursday at al-Sardi school, which is run by the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (Unrwa) and is located in a south-eastern Block 2 area of the densely-populated, decades-old camp.

The school was full with hundreds of displaced people who had fled the fighting elsewhere in Gaza, according to the residents.

Videos shared on social media showed the destruction of several classrooms at the school, as well as bodies wrapped in white shrouds and blankets.

"Enough war! We have been displaced dozens of times. They killed our children while they were sleeping," a woman injured in the attack screamed in one video.

Residents initially said that more than 20 people were killed in the attack.

Later, an official at al-Aqsa hospital told a freelance journalist working for the BBC that it had received 40 bodies from the school.

Unrwa spokeswoman Juliette Touma also told Reuters that the number of those reported killed was between 35 and 45. But she added that she could not confirm the figure at this stage.

Reuters also cited the director of the Hamas-run Government Media Office, Ismail al-Thawabta, and an official at the Hamas-run health ministry as saying that 40 people were killed, including 14 children and nine women.

In a statement, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said fighter jets had conducted a "precise strike on a Hamas compound embedded inside an Unrwa school in the area of Nuseirat". An annotated aerial photograph highlighted rooms on two upper floors of the building, which the IDF said were the “locations of the terrorists”.

The IDF said members of Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad who took part in the 7 October attack on southern Israel, when around 1,200 people were killed and 251 others were taken hostage, had been operating in the building.

“Before the strike, a number of steps were taken to reduce the risk of harming uninvolved civilians during the strike, including conducting aerial surveillance, and additional intelligence information,” it added.

Later, IDF spokesman Lt Col Peter Lerner told reporters that between 20 and 30 fighters had been using the school to plan and carry out attacks, and that many of them were killed in the strike.

He also said he was not aware of any civilian casualties and questioned the figures put out by Hamas-run authorities.

Mr Thawabta rejected the IDF’s claims, saying: “The occupation uses lying to the public opinion through false fabricated stories to justify the brutal crime it conducted against dozens of displaced people.”

At least 36,580 people have been killed in Gaza since Israel launched a military campaign in response to the 7 October attack, according to the territory's Hamas-run health ministry, whose figures do not differentiate between civilians and combatants.

On Wednesday, the Israeli military said it had taken “operational control” over eastern areas of Bureij refugee camp – which is just west of Nuseirat - and eastern Deir al-Balah.

Residents reported intense bombardment and the charity Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) said at least 70 bodies - the majority women and children - had been brought to al-Aqsa hospital over the previous 24 hours.

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