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The aftermath of a deadly Israeli airstrike on a United Nations-run school in central Gaza on June 6. (CNN via CNN Newsource)

Airstrike kills dozens sheltering in UN school

June 6, 2024

By Abeer Salman and Rob Picheta, CNN

Jerusalem (CNN) — Dozens of people have been killed and multiple others injured in an overnight Israeli airstrike on a United Nations-run school in central Gaza, according to hospital and government authorities in the Palestinian enclave.

The school, run by the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA), was housing displaced people in the Nuseirat refugee camp at the time of the strike, the Gaza government media office said.

At least 45 people were killed in the strike, a spokesperson from Gaza’s Ministry of Health told CNN. Authorities at the nearby Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital said casualties could rise as victims were still being brought to the hospital on Thursday morning.

The Israeli military confirmed it carried out the airstrike, which it said targeted a Hamas compound operating inside the school. CNN cannot independently verify the claims.

In a statement, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said it had taken “many measures” to minimize the danger in advance of the strike, including aerial surveillance and the use of “additional precise intelligence.”

The attack came after the IDF ramped up ground and air assaults in the center of the strip on Tuesday amid a deepening humanitarian crisis there. Palestinians in central Gaza have reported that the intensity and frequency of Israeli strikes in the last week have felt like the beginning of the war.

According to a journalist in the area working with CNN, the school was hit by at least three missiles that penetrated the three-story building. The facility was believed to be housing approximately 20,000 displaced people who had taken shelter in the school, its yard, and the surrounding area, according to the journalist.

“We were asleep here, (and) we suddenly saw rockets falling. I went down holding my child, we were both injured, my relative was martyred in that room,” Jaber Abu Daher told CNN on Thursday.

He said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “is killing the civilians, he is not killing militants, it’s innocent people asleep in a UNRWA facility… what did children and elderly do? What did they do to him? He is looking for Hamas people? Go look for them, why are you killing us in schools?”

Gaza authorities said the dead and injured continue to be brought to Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital, which is operating at three times its clinical capacity, “signaling a real disaster that will lead to a greater increase in the number of martyrs,” the Gaza media office said.

UNRWA said its school was “possibly hit several times” overnight by the strikes. An UNRWA spokesperson told CNN it was not able to confirm Israeli reports that Hamas operatives had been using the school as a compound.

“We remind all parties to the conflict that schools and other UN premises must never be used for military or fighting purposes,” the spokesperson said. “UN facilities must be protected at all times.”

An Israeli strike hit the same camp last month and killed dozens of people, Al-Aqsa Martyrs hospital said at the time. One woman, Um Mohammad Taha, told CNN then that five houses had collapsed, including her sister’s, and that many were buried under the rubble, including children.

And another Israeli attack on the Nuseirat camp in April injured several journalists, including one working with CNN.

Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), which has supported Al-Aqsa hospital, said Wednesday it had taken in more than 70 people who had been killed, and more than 300 injured, in just 48 hours, amid an escalation in bombing and ground fighting.

Karin Huster, an MSF nurse, said in the group’s statement: “We have seen hospitals being bombed. We have seen refugee camps being bombed. We have seen humanitarian warehouses being bombed. The situation is apocalyptic.”

“The odor of blood when I entered the emergency room was just overwhelming. People are lying on the floor. People are lying outside,” Huster added. “It’s just an emotionally overwhelming situation.”

Israel’s renewed focus on bombarding central Gaza highlights again the elusive nature of its stated ambition to destroy Hamas. The brunt of the Israeli military campaign had, in recent months, moved south towards Rafah, but rocket fire and ground warfare have now again engulfed encampments further north such as Nuseirat and areas like Bureij, both just south of Gaza City.

“Every place we went to after they said it’s safe was struck – I want the war to stop,” Mohammad Farajallah, a child who said his two brothers were killed in Thursday’s strike, told CNN as he rifled through the rubble of the school.

The latest attack also came as American, Egyptian and Qatari officials met in Doha to revive negotiations on a new ceasefire and hostage release deal.

The meetings follow a three-phase proposal — characterized as an Israeli plan — laid out by US President Joe Biden that would pair a release of hostages with a “full and complete ceasefire” in Gaza.

On Wednesday, Israel’s Minister of Defense Yoav Gallant said the country’s military offensive in Gaza would not be halted for any resumption of ceasefire and hostage release talks with Hamas.

“We are in a process of continuous engagement to wear down the enemy. Any negotiations with the terrorist organization Hamas will only be conducted under fire,” Gallant said in a recorded video statement.

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