Israeli tank shells hit a compound housing a UN school in the northern Gaza Strip, killing at least 15 people and wounding dozens who were seeking shelter from fierce clashes on the streets outside.
Pools of blood soiled the school courtyard, amid scattered books and belongings. There was a large scorch mark in the courtyard marking the place where one of the tank shells hit.
The strike occurred during a day of heavy fighting throughout the coastal territory as Israel pressed ahead with its operation to halt rocket fire from Gaza and destroy a sophisticated network of cross-border tunnels.
Gaza health official Ashraf al-Kidra said the dead and injured in the school compound were among hundreds of people seeking shelter from heavy fighting in the area.
It was the fourth time a UN facility has been hit in fighting between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza since the Israeli operation began on July 8.
UNRWA, the Palestinian refugee agency, has said it has found militant rockets inside two vacant schools.
The strike came on a day of heavy fighting throughout the Gaza Strip as Hamas militants stuck to their demand for the lifting of an Israeli and Egyptian blockade amid international efforts to broker a ceasefire.
Six members of the same family and an 18-month-old infant boy were killed when an Israeli airstrike hit the Jebaliya refugee camp in the early morning hours, according to Gaza police and health officials. Twenty others were injured in the strike, they said, and rescuers were digging through the rubble of flattened homes, looking for survivors.
An airstrike on a home in the southern Gaza town of Abassan killed five members of another family, said Gaza health official Ashraf al-Kidra. Abassan is near Khan Younis, in an area that saw intense fighting on Wednesday.
The 16-day conflict has claimed the lives of more than 700 Palestinians, most of them civilians, Palestinian health officials say. Israel has lost 32 soldiers, all since July 17, when it widened its air campaign into a full-scale ground operation it says is aimed at halting rocket fire from Gaza and destroying a sophisticated network of cross-border tunnels.
Two Israeli civilians and a Thai worker in Israel have also been killed.
Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu made no reference to the ceasefire efforts in underscoring his determination to neutralise the rocket and tunnel threats.
More than 2,000 rockets have been fired at Israel from Gaza since July 8, and the Israeli military says it has uncovered more than 30 tunnels leading from Gaza to Israel, some of which have been used by Hamas to carry out attacks.
“We started this operation to return peace and quiet to Israel… And we shall return it,” Mr Netanyahu said at a joint appearance with visiting British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond.
Secretary-general Ban Ki-moon condemned the deadly attack.
The UN chief again demanded that Israel and Hamas abide by international humanitarian law during their conflict and respect “the sanctity of civilian life, the inviolability of UN premises” and protect humanitarian workers.
He said in a statement in Erbil, Iraq, which was released at UN headquarters, that the “circumstances are still unclear”.
“Today’s attack underscores the imperative for the killing to stop – and to stop now,” Mr Ban said.
Mr Ban said UN staff are attempting to arrange “a humanitarian pause in the hostilities so that civilians could be evacuated”.