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Attack On U.N. School Kills Over A Dozen Civilians In Gaza

Jul 24, 2014
Originally published on July 24, 2014 5:22 pm
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U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry continued to work the phones from Cairo today. He's been trying to forge a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip. At least 790 Palestinians have been killed in the fighting, mostly civilians. More than 30 Israeli soldiers and three civilians in Israel have been killed. Today saw a shocking burst of violence. A United Nations school came under attack. The school was being used as a shelter for civilians trying to escape the violence. At least 15 people died. NPR's Emily Harris reports from Gaza.

EMILY HARRIS, BYLINE: Things were chaotic this afternoon at the Coma Adwon (ph) Hospital in the North of the Gaza Strip. About an hour after the nearby school was hit. Crowds swelled around wounded people on stretchers. Others uninjured but shocked and scared kept arriving, many crammed into ambulances. Anwar Hamad (ph) had a small wound on his shoulder. He had been staying at the school for a week for shelter.

ANWAR HAMAD: (Through translator) We were sitting in the school when someone came and said the Red Cross wants to take us out of here, so get your things together.

HARRIS: Shells, he said, landed soon after in the school courtyard where people had gathered.

HAMAD: (Through translator) It was awful. People were in pieces, people were injured, screaming. I took my child's hand and started running away.

HARRIS: Palestinians assumed this was an Israeli strike. Even before today the international Red Cross had been trying to reach the school. It's tucked way up in the Northeast corner of Gaza, in the middle of a battle zone since Israel's ground invasion began one week ago. To evacuate people or to send food, aid agencies must make arrangements with the Israeli Military. The U.N. gives the Israeli Army the coordinates of their schools every day.

GENERAL MICKEY EDELSTEIN: We first have to investigate.

HARRIS: Israel's Brigadier General Mickey Edelstein commands the Gaza division. He says the Army does not target U.N. facilities. The military said it had been working to allow the Red Cross in to evacuate people. It said in a statement that during intense fighting Thursday militants fired at Israeli soldiers from the school area, and those Israeli soldiers fired back. That's one thing that happened in Northern Gaza today. Around Gaza airstrikes also continued. And there has been close-quarter conflict up and down Gaza's long eastern edge. In some areas, Israeli soldiers made scores of arrests. Samar Almahjer (ph) finally escaped the fighting in Kuzah, a small village just a few hundred yards from Israel's border, with her six-year, four-year and 10-day-old children plus dozens of extended family. She had spent two nights in a basement to avoid the fighting. This morning, she says, people decided they just had to run for it.

SAMAR ALMAHJER: (Through translator) We called each other and realized no help was coming, so people ran - some made it, some didn't.

HARRIS: She said snipers shot from rooftops and tanks were on the town streets. Her husband, Zohar Almahjer (ph), had to learn all this by cell phone he's been in a different part of Gaza and cannot return home. He says he still doesn't know what happened to his 67-year-old father who he believes was arrested.

ZOHAR ALMAHJER: The last call that I asked neighbors they told me they saw him, they never actually talked to him. They walked in lines with I.D.'s on hands.

HARRIS: With Israeli troops continuing their push into Gaza, people here are starting to wonder how long they'll stay - even if there's a cease-fire. Emily Harris, NPR News, Gaza. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.