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UN school in Gaza caught in cross-fire; 15 killed

KDWN

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — A U.N. school in Gaza crowded with hundreds of Palestinians seeking refuge from fierce fighting came under fire Thursday, killing at least 15 civilians and leaving a sad tableau of blood-spattered pillows, blankets and children’s clothing scattered in the courtyard.

Palestinian officials blamed Israel for the shelling, which wounded dozens and came on the deadliest day so far of the current round of fighting. However, the Israeli military said the school “was not a target in any way” and raised the possibility the compound was hit by Hamas rockets.

Ominously, meanwhile, violence spread to the West Bank, where thousands of Palestinians protesting the Gaza fighting clashed with Israeli soldiers late Thursday in Qalandia, near the West Bank city of Ramallah. At least one Palestinian was killed and dozens were injured, a Palestinian doctor said.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon angrily denounced the Gaza attack, saying the killing must “stop now.” But the frantic diplomatic efforts spanning the region were running into a brick wall: Israel demands that Hamas stop firing rockets without conditions, while Gaza’s Islamic militant rulers insist the seven-year Israeli-Egyptian blockade of the territory must end first.

“Many have been killed – including women and children, as well as U.N. staff,” Ban said in a statement, though he did not elaborate and a later U.N. communique made no mention of humanitarian workers being among the casualties.

In the aftermath of the attack, a child’s sandal decorated with a yellow flower lay in a puddle of blood, while sheep and cattle belonging to those seeking shelter grazed in the grass nearby. A large scorch mark scarred the spot where one of the shells hit. Dozens of wounded, including many children, were wheeled into a nearby hospital as sirens wailed.

The U.N. said it had been trying to achieve a humanitarian pause in the fighting to allow the evacuation of civilians from the area.

Kamel al-Kafarne, who was in the school, said people were boarding buses when three tank shells hit.

“We were about to get out of the school, then they hit the school. They kept on shelling it,” he said.

It was the fourth time a U.N. facility has been hit in Gaza fighting since the Israeli operation began on July 8. UNRWA, the U.N’s Palestinian refugee agency, has said it discovered dozens of Hamas rockets hidden inside two vacant schools, but U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq said the school hit Thursday in the northern town of Beit Hanoun was not one of them.

The U.N. has also expressed alarm that rockets found in the schools have gone missing after they were turned over to local authorities in Gaza. “Those responsible are turning schools into potential military targets, and endangering the lives of innocent children,” U.N. staff and anyone seeking shelter there, a U.N. statement said.

Who launched the attack against the U.N. compound in Beit Hanoun also was under dispute.

The Palestinian Red Crescent said Israeli shells hit the school. But Israel’s chief military spokesman, Brig. Gen. Moti Almoz, said the military was investigating and it was too early to know if the deaths were caused by an errant Israeli shell or Hamas fire. “We are not ruling out the possibility that it was Hamas fire,” he said.

Another army spokesman, Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, said there had been Hamas fighting in the area.

“We do not target the U.N. We do not target civilians. There was no target in the school. Gunmen were attacking soldiers near the facility. The school was not a target in any way,” Lerner said.

The military had urged the U.N. and the Red Cross to evacuate the school for three days leading up to the shelling incident, Almoz said, adding that there had been an increase in Hamas attacks from the area in recent days.

“Despite repeated calls from the military to the U.N. and international organizations to stop the shooting from there because it endangers our forces, we decided to respond. In parallel to our fire there was Hamas fire at the school,” Almoz said.

Fighting was fierce across Gaza on Thursday, and at least 119 Palestinians were killed, making it the bloodiest day of the 17-day war. That raised the overall Palestinian death toll to at least 803, Gaza health official Ashraf al-Kidra said. Israel has lost 32 soldiers, all since July 17, when it widened its air campaign into a full-scale ground war. Two Israeli civilians and a Thai worker in Israel have also been killed by rocket or mortar fire.

Israel says the war is meant to halt the relentless rocket fire on its cities by Palestinian militants in Gaza and to destroy a sophisticated network of cross-border tunnels that Hamas is using to sneak into Israel to try to carry out attacks inside communities near the border.

Israel insists it does its utmost to prevent civilian casualties but says Hamas puts Palestinians in danger by hiding arms and fighters in civilian areas.

The attack on Beit Hanoun was likely to increase pressure on international diplomats shuttling around the region in an effort to broker a cease-fire.

Days of feverish negotiations appeared close to an agreement early Friday that would allow a week-long pause in the fighting while regional officials broker new talks between Hamas and Israel toward a lasting cease-fire. Details of the agreement, first reported by Israeli media, would let Israeli forces remain in Gaza to continue destroying Hamas’s tunnel network.

The deal could also let more Palestinians living in Gaza enter Egypt at the Rafah border crossing where their access is currently limited. The humanitarian pause in fighting could begin this weekend, and would coincide with the Monday start of Eid al-Fitr, the celebration that marks the end of the holy Muslim month of Ramadan.

A senior U.S. official who participated in the talks cautioned that negotiations were continuing into early Friday, and that no agreement had yet been reached. The official described a range of ideas that represented proposals and demands from all sides involved. The official was not authorized to be named in discussing the negotiations and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Heading late Thursday night into a third meeting with Ban over the last four days, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said “we still have more work to do.”

“So we’re going to keep at it,” Kerry said. “It’s so imperative to try to find a way forward.”

Kerry has been in Cairo, Israel and Ramallah since Monday to press regional leaders for a solution. He spoke repeatedly with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the foreign ministers of Egypt, Jordan, Turkey and Qatar to press for a solution. Like Israel, the U.S. considers Hamas a terrorist organization and will not directly engage with its leaders and so relies on Turkey and Qatar as a go-between to negotiate with the militant group that controls Gaza.

Above all, the U.S. wants at least a temporary truce before it tries to usher Israel and Hamas through negotiations that could take years to resolve. The last cease-fire brokered by the U.S. took effect in November 2012.

Hamas demands the release of Palestinian prisoners in addition to an end to the 7-year-old economic blockade imposed by Israel after the Islamic militant group violently seized control of Gaza from the Western-backed government of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Egypt tightened its own restrictions last year after the overthrow of a Hamas-friendly government in Cairo and has destroyed many of the cross-border tunnels that had sustained Gaza’s economy, while also being used by the militants to smuggle in arms.

Netanyahu made no reference to the cease-fire efforts in underscoring his determination to neutralize the rocket and tunnel threats.

“We started this operation to return peace and quiet to Israel … and we shall return it,” he said after meeting with British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond in Israel.

More than 2,300 rockets have been fired at Israel from Gaza since July 8, and the Israeli military says it has uncovered 31 tunnels leading from Gaza to Israel, some of which have been used by Hamas to try to carry out attacks inside Israel. On Thursday, soldiers detained two militants as they emerged from such a tunnel, the army said.

Deitch reported from Jerusalem. Associated Press writers Tia Goldenberg and Yousur Alhlou in Jerusalem, Mohammed Daraghmeh in Ramallah, West Bank, Maggie Michael and Lara Jakes in Cairo and Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations contributed to this report.

UN school in Gaza caught in cross-fire; 15 killed

KDWN

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — A U.N. school in Gaza crowded with hundreds of Palestinians seeking refuge from fierce fighting came under fire Thursday, killing at least 15 civilians and leaving a sad tableau of blood-spattered pillows, blankets and children’s clothing scattered in the courtyard.

Palestinian officials blamed Israel for the shelling, which wounded dozens and came on the deadliest day so far of the current round of fighting. However, the Israeli military said the school “was not a target in any way” and raised the possibility the compound was hit by Hamas rockets.

Ominously, meanwhile, violence spread to the West Bank, where thousands of Palestinians protesting the Gaza fighting clashed with Israeli soldiers late Thursday in Qalandia, near the West Bank city of Ramallah. At least one Palestinian was killed and dozens were injured, a Palestinian doctor said.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon angrily denounced the Gaza attack, saying the killing must “stop now.” But the frantic diplomatic efforts spanning the region were running into a brick wall: Israel demands that Hamas stop firing rockets without conditions, while Gaza’s Islamic militant rulers insist the seven-year Israeli-Egyptian blockade of the territory must end first.

“Many have been killed – including women and children, as well as U.N. staff,” Ban said in a statement, though he did not elaborate and a later U.N. communique made no mention of humanitarian workers being among the casualties.

In the aftermath of the attack, a child’s sandal decorated with a yellow flower lay in a puddle of blood, while sheep and cattle belonging to those seeking shelter grazed in the grass nearby. A large scorch mark scarred the spot where one of the shells hit. Dozens of wounded, including many children, were wheeled into a nearby hospital as sirens wailed.

The U.N. said it had been trying to achieve a humanitarian pause in the fighting to allow the evacuation of civilians from the area.

Kamel al-Kafarne, who was in the school, said people were boarding buses when three tank shells hit.

“We were about to get out of the school, then they hit the school. They kept on shelling it,” he said.

It was the fourth time a U.N. facility has been hit in Gaza fighting since the Israeli operation began on July 8. UNRWA, the U.N’s Palestinian refugee agency, has said it discovered dozens of Hamas rockets hidden inside two vacant schools, but U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq said the school hit Thursday in the northern town of Beit Hanoun was not one of them.

The U.N. has also expressed alarm that rockets found in the schools have gone missing after they were turned over to local authorities in Gaza. “Those responsible are turning schools into potential military targets, and endangering the lives of innocent children,” U.N. staff and anyone seeking shelter there, a U.N. statement said.

Who launched the attack against the U.N. compound in Beit Hanoun also was under dispute.

The Palestinian Red Crescent said Israeli shells hit the school. But Israel’s chief military spokesman, Brig. Gen. Moti Almoz, said the military was investigating and it was too early to know if the deaths were caused by an errant Israeli shell or Hamas fire. “We are not ruling out the possibility that it was Hamas fire,” he said.

Another army spokesman, Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, said there had been Hamas fighting in the area.

“We do not target the U.N. We do not target civilians. There was no target in the school. Gunmen were attacking soldiers near the facility. The school was not a target in any way,” Lerner said.

The military had urged the U.N. and the Red Cross to evacuate the school for three days leading up to the shelling incident, Almoz said, adding that there had been an increase in Hamas attacks from the area in recent days.

“Despite repeated calls from the military to the U.N. and international organizations to stop the shooting from there because it endangers our forces, we decided to respond. In parallel to our fire there was Hamas fire at the school,” Almoz said.

Fighting was fierce across Gaza on Thursday, and at least 119 Palestinians were killed, making it the bloodiest day of the 17-day war. That raised the overall Palestinian death toll to at least 803, Gaza health official Ashraf al-Kidra said. Israel has lost 32 soldiers, all since July 17, when it widened its air campaign into a full-scale ground war. Two Israeli civilians and a Thai worker in Israel have also been killed by rocket or mortar fire.

Israel says the war is meant to halt the relentless rocket fire on its cities by Palestinian militants in Gaza and to destroy a sophisticated network of cross-border tunnels that Hamas is using to sneak into Israel to try to carry out attacks inside communities near the border.

Israel insists it does its utmost to prevent civilian casualties but says Hamas puts Palestinians in danger by hiding arms and fighters in civilian areas.

The attack on Beit Hanoun was likely to increase pressure on international diplomats shuttling around the region in an effort to broker a cease-fire.

Days of feverish negotiations appeared close to an agreement early Friday that would allow a week-long pause in the fighting while regional officials broker new talks between Hamas and Israel toward a lasting cease-fire. Details of the agreement, first reported by Israeli media, would let Israeli forces remain in Gaza to continue destroying Hamas’s tunnel network.

The deal could also let more Palestinians living in Gaza enter Egypt at the Rafah border crossing where their access is currently limited. The humanitarian pause in fighting could begin this weekend, and would coincide with the Monday start of Eid al-Fitr, the celebration that marks the end of the holy Muslim month of Ramadan.

A senior U.S. official who participated in the talks cautioned that negotiations were continuing into early Friday, and that no agreement had yet been reached. The official described a range of ideas that represented proposals and demands from all sides involved. The official was not authorized to be named in discussing the negotiations and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Heading late Thursday night into a third meeting with Ban over the last four days, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said “we still have more work to do.”

“So we’re going to keep at it,” Kerry said. “It’s so imperative to try to find a way forward.”

Kerry has been in Cairo, Israel and Ramallah since Monday to press regional leaders for a solution. He spoke repeatedly with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the foreign ministers of Egypt, Jordan, Turkey and Qatar to press for a solution. Like Israel, the U.S. considers Hamas a terrorist organization and will not directly engage with its leaders and so relies on Turkey and Qatar as a go-between to negotiate with the militant group that controls Gaza.

Above all, the U.S. wants at least a temporary truce before it tries to usher Israel and Hamas through negotiations that could take years to resolve. The last cease-fire brokered by the U.S. took effect in November 2012.

Hamas demands the release of Palestinian prisoners in addition to an end to the 7-year-old economic blockade imposed by Israel after the Islamic militant group violently seized control of Gaza from the Western-backed government of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Egypt tightened its own restrictions last year after the overthrow of a Hamas-friendly government in Cairo and has destroyed many of the cross-border tunnels that had sustained Gaza’s economy, while also being used by the militants to smuggle in arms.

Netanyahu made no reference to the cease-fire efforts in underscoring his determination to neutralize the rocket and tunnel threats.

“We started this operation to return peace and quiet to Israel … and we shall return it,” he said after meeting with British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond in Israel.

More than 2,300 rockets have been fired at Israel from Gaza since July 8, and the Israeli military says it has uncovered 31 tunnels leading from Gaza to Israel, some of which have been used by Hamas to try to carry out attacks inside Israel. On Thursday, soldiers detained two militants as they emerged from such a tunnel, the army said.

Deitch reported from Jerusalem. Associated Press writers Tia Goldenberg and Yousur Alhlou in Jerusalem, Mohammed Daraghmeh in Ramallah, West Bank, Maggie Michael and Lara Jakes in Cairo and Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations contributed to this report.

UN school in Gaza caught in cross-fire; 15 killed

KDWN

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — A U.N. school in Gaza crowded with hundreds of Palestinians seeking refuge from fierce fighting came under fire Thursday, killing at least 15 civilians and leaving a sad tableau of blood-spattered pillows, blankets and children’s clothing scattered in the courtyard.

Palestinian officials blamed Israel for the shelling, which wounded dozens and came on the deadliest day so far of the current round of fighting. However, the Israeli military said the school “was not a target in any way” and raised the possibility the compound was hit by Hamas rockets.

Ominously, meanwhile, violence spread to the West Bank, where thousands of Palestinians protesting the Gaza fighting clashed with Israeli soldiers late Thursday in Qalandia, near the West Bank city of Ramallah. At least one Palestinian was killed and dozens were injured, a Palestinian doctor said.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon angrily denounced the Gaza attack, saying the killing must “stop now.” But the frantic diplomatic efforts spanning the region were running into a brick wall: Israel demands that Hamas stop firing rockets without conditions, while Gaza’s Islamic militant rulers insist the seven-year Israeli-Egyptian blockade of the territory must end first.

“Many have been killed – including women and children, as well as U.N. staff,” Ban said in a statement, though he did not elaborate and a later U.N. communique made no mention of humanitarian workers being among the casualties.

In the aftermath of the attack, a child’s sandal decorated with a yellow flower lay in a puddle of blood, while sheep and cattle belonging to those seeking shelter grazed in the grass nearby. A large scorch mark scarred the spot where one of the shells hit. Dozens of wounded, including many children, were wheeled into a nearby hospital as sirens wailed.

The U.N. said it had been trying to achieve a humanitarian pause in the fighting to allow the evacuation of civilians from the area.

Kamel al-Kafarne, who was in the school, said people were boarding buses when three tank shells hit.

“We were about to get out of the school, then they hit the school. They kept on shelling it,” he said.

It was the fourth time a U.N. facility has been hit in Gaza fighting since the Israeli operation began on July 8. UNRWA, the U.N’s Palestinian refugee agency, has said it discovered dozens of Hamas rockets hidden inside two vacant schools, but U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq said the school hit Thursday in the northern town of Beit Hanoun was not one of them.

The U.N. has also expressed alarm that rockets found in the schools have gone missing after they were turned over to local authorities in Gaza. “Those responsible are turning schools into potential military targets, and endangering the lives of innocent children,” U.N. staff and anyone seeking shelter there, a U.N. statement said.

Who launched the attack against the U.N. compound in Beit Hanoun also was under dispute.

The Palestinian Red Crescent said Israeli shells hit the school. But Israel’s chief military spokesman, Brig. Gen. Moti Almoz, said the military was investigating and it was too early to know if the deaths were caused by an errant Israeli shell or Hamas fire. “We are not ruling out the possibility that it was Hamas fire,” he said.

Another army spokesman, Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, said there had been Hamas fighting in the area.

“We do not target the U.N. We do not target civilians. There was no target in the school. Gunmen were attacking soldiers near the facility. The school was not a target in any way,” Lerner said.

The military had urged the U.N. and the Red Cross to evacuate the school for three days leading up to the shelling incident, Almoz said, adding that there had been an increase in Hamas attacks from the area in recent days.

“Despite repeated calls from the military to the U.N. and international organizations to stop the shooting from there because it endangers our forces, we decided to respond. In parallel to our fire there was Hamas fire at the school,” Almoz said.

Fighting was fierce across Gaza on Thursday, and at least 119 Palestinians were killed, making it the bloodiest day of the 17-day war. That raised the overall Palestinian death toll to at least 803, Gaza health official Ashraf al-Kidra said. Israel has lost 32 soldiers, all since July 17, when it widened its air campaign into a full-scale ground war. Two Israeli civilians and a Thai worker in Israel have also been killed by rocket or mortar fire.

Israel says the war is meant to halt the relentless rocket fire on its cities by Palestinian militants in Gaza and to destroy a sophisticated network of cross-border tunnels that Hamas is using to sneak into Israel to try to carry out attacks inside communities near the border.

Israel insists it does its utmost to prevent civilian casualties but says Hamas puts Palestinians in danger by hiding arms and fighters in civilian areas.

The attack on Beit Hanoun was likely to increase pressure on international diplomats shuttling around the region in an effort to broker a cease-fire.

Days of feverish negotiations appeared close to an agreement early Friday that would allow a week-long pause in the fighting while regional officials broker new talks between Hamas and Israel toward a lasting cease-fire. Details of the agreement, first reported by Israeli media, would let Israeli forces remain in Gaza to continue destroying Hamas’s tunnel network.

The deal could also let more Palestinians living in Gaza enter Egypt at the Rafah border crossing where their access is currently limited. The humanitarian pause in fighting could begin this weekend, and would coincide with the Monday start of Eid al-Fitr, the celebration that marks the end of the holy Muslim month of Ramadan.

A senior U.S. official who participated in the talks cautioned that negotiations were continuing into early Friday, and that no agreement had yet been reached. The official described a range of ideas that represented proposals and demands from all sides involved. The official was not authorized to be named in discussing the negotiations and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Heading late Thursday night into a third meeting with Ban over the last four days, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said “we still have more work to do.”

“So we’re going to keep at it,” Kerry said. “It’s so imperative to try to find a way forward.”

Kerry has been in Cairo, Israel and Ramallah since Monday to press regional leaders for a solution. He spoke repeatedly with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the foreign ministers of Egypt, Jordan, Turkey and Qatar to press for a solution. Like Israel, the U.S. considers Hamas a terrorist organization and will not directly engage with its leaders and so relies on Turkey and Qatar as a go-between to negotiate with the militant group that controls Gaza.

Above all, the U.S. wants at least a temporary truce before it tries to usher Israel and Hamas through negotiations that could take years to resolve. The last cease-fire brokered by the U.S. took effect in November 2012.

Hamas demands the release of Palestinian prisoners in addition to an end to the 7-year-old economic blockade imposed by Israel after the Islamic militant group violently seized control of Gaza from the Western-backed government of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Egypt tightened its own restrictions last year after the overthrow of a Hamas-friendly government in Cairo and has destroyed many of the cross-border tunnels that had sustained Gaza’s economy, while also being used by the militants to smuggle in arms.

Netanyahu made no reference to the cease-fire efforts in underscoring his determination to neutralize the rocket and tunnel threats.

“We started this operation to return peace and quiet to Israel … and we shall return it,” he said after meeting with British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond in Israel.

More than 2,300 rockets have been fired at Israel from Gaza since July 8, and the Israeli military says it has uncovered 31 tunnels leading from Gaza to Israel, some of which have been used by Hamas to try to carry out attacks inside Israel. On Thursday, soldiers detained two militants as they emerged from such a tunnel, the army said.

Deitch reported from Jerusalem. Associated Press writers Tia Goldenberg and Yousur Alhlou in Jerusalem, Mohammed Daraghmeh in Ramallah, West Bank, Maggie Michael and Lara Jakes in Cairo and Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations contributed to this report.

UN school in Gaza caught in cross-fire; 15 killed

KDWN

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — A U.N. school in Gaza crowded with hundreds of Palestinians seeking refuge from fierce fighting came under fire Thursday, killing at least 15 civilians and leaving a sad tableau of blood-spattered pillows, blankets and children’s clothing scattered in the courtyard.

Palestinian officials blamed Israel for the shelling, which wounded dozens and came on the deadliest day so far of the current round of fighting. However, the Israeli military said the school “was not a target in any way” and raised the possibility the compound was hit by Hamas rockets.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon angrily denounced the attack, saying the killing must “stop now.” But the frantic diplomatic efforts spanning the region were running into a brick wall: Israel demands that Hamas stop firing rockets without conditions, while Gaza’s Islamic militant rulers insist the seven-year Israeli-Egyptian blockade of the territory must end first.

“Many have been killed – including women and children, as well as U.N. staff,” Ban said in a statement, though he did not elaborate and a later U.N. communique made no mention of humanitarian workers being among the casualties.

In the aftermath of the attack, a child’s sandal decorated with a yellow flower lay in a puddle of blood, while sheep and cattle belonging to those seeking shelter grazed in the grass nearby. A large scorch mark scarred the spot where one of the shells hit. Dozens of wounded, including many children, were wheeled into a nearby hospital as sirens wailed.

The U.N. said it had been trying to achieve a humanitarian pause in the fighting to allow the evacuation of civilians from the area.

Kamel al-Kafarne, who was in the school, said people were boarding buses when three tank shells hit.

“We were about to get out of the school, then they hit the school. They kept on shelling it,” he said.

It was the fourth time a U.N. facility has been hit in Gaza fighting since the Israeli operation began on July 8. UNRWA, the U.N’s Palestinian refugee agency, has said it discovered dozens of Hamas rockets hidden inside two vacant schools, but U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq said the school hit Thursday in the northern town of Beit Hanoun was not one of them.

The U.N. has also expressed alarm that rockets found in the schools have gone missing after they were turned over to local authorities in Gaza. “Those responsible are turning schools into potential military targets, and endangering the lives of innocent children,” U.N. staff and anyone seeking shelter there, a U.N. statement said.

Fighting was fierce across Gaza Thursday, and at least 119 Palestinians were killed, making it the bloodiest day of the 17-day war. That raised the overall Palestinian death toll to at least 803, Gaza health official Ashraf al-Kidra said. Israel has lost 32 soldiers, all since July 17, when it widened its air campaign into a full-scale ground war. Two Israeli civilians and a Thai worker in Israel have also been killed by rocket or mortar fire.

Israel says the war is meant to halt the relentless rocket fire on its cities by Palestinian militants in Gaza and to destroy a sophisticated network of cross-border tunnels that Hamas is using to sneak into Israel to try to carry out attacks inside communities near the border.

Israel insists it does its utmost to prevent civilian casualties but says Hamas puts Palestinians in danger by hiding arms and fighters in civilian areas.

The Palestinian Red Crescent said Israeli shells hit the U.N. compound. But Israel’s chief military spokesman, Brig. Gen. Moti Almoz, said the military was investigating and it was too early to know if the deaths were caused by an errant Israeli shell or Hamas fire. “We are not ruling out the possibility that it was Hamas fire,” he said.

Another army spokesman, Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, said there had been Hamas fighting in the area.

“We do not target the U.N. We do not target civilians. There was no target in the school. Gunmen were attacking soldiers near the facility. The school was not a target in any way,” Lerner said.

The military had urged the U.N. and the Red Cross to evacuate the school for three days leading up to the shelling incident, Almoz said, adding that there had been an increase in Hamas attacks from the area in recent days.

“Despite repeated calls from the military to the U.N. and international organizations to stop the shooting from there because it endangers our forces, we decided to respond. In parallel to our fire there was Hamas fire at the school,” Almoz said.

The attack was likely to increase pressure on international diplomats shuttling around the region in an effort to broker a cease-fire.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry spent the day in Cairo feverishly calling on regional leaders, including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as well as the foreign ministers of Egypt, Turkey and Qatar to press for a solution. Like Israel, the U.S. considers Hamas a terrorist organization and will not directly engage with its leaders.

“We still have more work to do. … The tragic incident today and every day just underscores the work we are trying to do and what we are trying to achieve. So we’re going to keep at it,” Kerry said after meeting with the U.N. chief late Thursday. “It’s so imperative to try to find a way forward.”

Ban also urged an end to the fighting. “I am telling … both the Israelis and Hamas: `You must stop fighting and enter into dialogue,'” he said. “Whatever grievances you may have, this is wrong. There are many other ways to resolve this issue without killing each other.”

As in years past – most recently in 2012 – the U.S. wants the violence to stop before it tries to negotiate each side’s demands. For Hamas, that includes the release of Palestinian prisoners in addition to an end to the 7-year-old economic blockade imposed by Israel after the Islamic militant group violently seized control of Gaza from the Western-backed government of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Egypt tightened its own restrictions last year after the overthrow of a Hamas-friendly government in Cairo and has destroyed many of the cross-border tunnels that had sustained Gaza’s economy, while also being used by the militants to smuggle in arms.

Netanyahu made no reference to the cease-fire efforts in underscoring his determination to neutralize the rocket and tunnel threats.

“We started this operation to return peace and quiet to Israel… and we shall return it,” he said after meeting with British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond in Israel.

More than 2,300 rockets have been fired at Israel from Gaza since July 8, and the Israeli military says it has uncovered 31 tunnels leading from Gaza to Israel, some of which have been used by Hamas to try to carry out attacks inside Israel. On Thursday, soldiers detained two militants as they emerged from such a tunnel, the army said.

Ominously, meanwhile, violence spread to the West Bank, where thousands of Palestinians protesting the Gaza fighting clashed with Israeli soldiers late Thursday in Qalandia, near the West Bank city of Ramallah. At least one Palestinian was killed and dozens were injured, a Palestinian doctor said.

Deitch reported from Jerusalem. Associated Press writers Tia Goldenberg and Yousur Alhlou in Jerusalem, Mohammed Daraghmeh in Ramallah, West Bank, Maggie Michael in Cairo and Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations contributed to this report.

UN school in Gaza caught in cross-fire; 15 killed

KDWN

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — A U.N. school in Gaza crowded with hundreds of Palestinians seeking refuge from fierce fighting came under fire Thursday, killing at least 15 civilians and leaving a sad tableau of blood-spattered pillows, blankets and children’s clothing scattered in the courtyard.

Palestinian officials blamed Israel for the shelling, which wounded dozens and came on the deadliest day so far of the current round of fighting. However, the Israeli military said the school “was not a target in any way” and raised the possibility the compound was hit by Hamas rockets.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon angrily denounced the attack, saying the killing must “stop now.” But the frantic diplomatic efforts spanning the region were running into a brick wall: Israel demands that Hamas stop firing rockets without conditions, while Gaza’s Islamic militant rulers insist the seven-year Israeli-Egyptian blockade of the territory must end first.

“Many have been killed – including women and children, as well as U.N. staff,” Ban said in a statement, though he did not elaborate and a later U.N. communique made no mention of humanitarian workers being among the casualties.

In the aftermath of the attack, a child’s sandal decorated with a yellow flower lay in a puddle of blood, while sheep and cattle belonging to those seeking shelter grazed in the grass nearby. A large scorch mark scarred the spot where one of the shells hit. Dozens of wounded, including many children, were wheeled into a nearby hospital as sirens wailed.

The U.N. said it had been trying to achieve a humanitarian pause in the fighting to allow the evacuation of civilians from the area.

Kamel al-Kafarne, who was in the school, said people were boarding buses when three tank shells hit.

“We were about to get out of the school, then they hit the school. They kept on shelling it,” he said.

It was the fourth time a U.N. facility has been hit in Gaza fighting since the Israeli operation began on July 8. UNRWA, the U.N’s Palestinian refugee agency, has said it discovered dozens of Hamas rockets hidden inside two vacant schools, but U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq said the school hit Thursday in the northern town of Beit Hanoun was not one of them.

The U.N. has also expressed alarm that rockets found in the schools have gone missing after they were turned over to local authorities in Gaza. “Those responsible are turning schools into potential military targets, and endangering the lives of innocent children,” U.N. staff and anyone seeking shelter there, a U.N. statement said.

Fighting was fierce across Gaza Thursday, and at least 119 Palestinians were killed, making it the bloodiest day of the 17-day war. That raised the overall Palestinian death toll to at least 803, Gaza health official Ashraf al-Kidra said. Israel has lost 32 soldiers, all since July 17, when it widened its air campaign into a full-scale ground war. Two Israeli civilians and a Thai worker in Israel have also been killed by rocket or mortar fire.

Israel says the war is meant to halt the relentless rocket fire on its cities by Palestinian militants in Gaza and to destroy a sophisticated network of cross-border tunnels that Hamas is using to sneak into Israel to try to carry out attacks inside communities near the border.

Israel insists it does its utmost to prevent civilian casualties but says Hamas puts Palestinians in danger by hiding arms and fighters in civilian areas.

The Palestinian Red Crescent said Israeli shells hit the U.N. compound. But Israel’s chief military spokesman, Brig. Gen. Moti Almoz, said the military was investigating and it was too early to know if the deaths were caused by an errant Israeli shell or Hamas fire. “We are not ruling out the possibility that it was Hamas fire,” he said.

Asked if Israel suspected the U.N. school was being used as a storage facility by Hamas for rockets and other weapons, another army spokesman, Lt. Peter Lerner, replied: “The school was not a target in any way.”

The military had urged the U.N. and the Red Cross to evacuate the school for three days leading up to the shelling incident, Almoz said, adding that there had been an increase in Hamas attacks from the area in recent days.

“Despite repeated calls from the military to the U.N. and international organizations to stop the shooting from there because it endangers our forces, we decided to respond. In parallel to our fire there was Hamas fire at the school,” Almoz said.

The attack was likely to increase pressure on international diplomats shuttling around the region in an effort to broker a cease-fire.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry spent the day in Cairo feverishly calling on regional leaders, including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as well as the foreign ministers of Egypt, Turkey and Qatar to press for a solution. Like Israel, the U.S. considers Hamas a terrorist organization and will not directly engage with its leaders.

“We still have more work to do. … The tragic incident today and every day just underscores the work we are trying to do and what we are trying to achieve. So we’re going to keep at it,” Kerry said after meeting with the U.N. chief late Thursday. “It’s so imperative to try to find a way forward.”

Ban also urged an end to the fighting. “I am telling … both the Israelis and Hamas: `You must stop fighting and enter into dialogue,'” he said. “Whatever grievances you may have, this is wrong. There are many other ways to resolve this issue without killing each other.”

As in years past – most recently in 2012 – the U.S. wants the violence to stop before it tries to negotiate each side’s demands. For Hamas, that includes the release of Palestinian prisoners in addition to an end to the 7-year-old economic blockade imposed by Israel after the Islamic militant group violently seized control of Gaza from the Western-backed government of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Egypt tightened its own restrictions last year after the overthrow of a Hamas-friendly government in Cairo and has destroyed many of the cross-border tunnels that had sustained Gaza’s economy, while also being used by the militants to smuggle in arms.

Netanyahu made no reference to the cease-fire efforts in underscoring his determination to neutralize the rocket and tunnel threats.

“We started this operation to return peace and quiet to Israel… and we shall return it,” he said after meeting with British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond in Israel.

More than 2,300 rockets have been fired at Israel from Gaza since July 8, and the Israeli military says it has uncovered 31 tunnels leading from Gaza to Israel, some of which have been used by Hamas to try to carry out attacks inside Israel. On Thursday, soldiers detained two militants as they emerged from such a tunnel, the army said.

Ominously, meanwhile, violence spread to the West Bank, where thousands of Palestinians protesting the Gaza fighting clashed with Israeli soldiers late Thursday in Qalandia, near the West Bank city of Ramallah. At least one Palestinian was killed and dozens were injured, a Palestinian doctor said.

Deitch reported from Jerusalem. Associated Press writers Tia Goldenberg and Yousur Alhlou in Jerusalem, Mohammed Daraghmeh in Ramallah, West Bank, Maggie Michael in Cairo and Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations contributed to this report.

UN school in Gaza caught in cross-fire; 15 killed

KDWN

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — Israeli tank shells hit a compound housing a U.N. school in the Gaza Strip on Thursday, killing at least 15 people and wounding dozens who were seeking shelter from fierce clashes on the streets outside, Palestinian officials said, as Israel pressed forward with its 17-day war against the territory’s Hamas rulers.

The U.N. said the strike occurred as staff members were trying to arrange a humanitarian pause in the hostilities so they could evacuate the civilians from the compound in the northern town of Beit Hanoun. The Israeli military said it was reviewing the incident and suggested Hamas rockets may have been to blame, although it offered no proof.

Kamel al-Kafarne, who was in the school, said that the U.N. was putting people on buses when three tank shells hit.

“We were about to get out of the school, then they hit the school. They kept on shelling it,” he said.

Books, blankets, cushions and other belongings were scattered about the courtyard in the aftermath of the explosion. There was a large scorch mark in the courtyard marking the apparent site of impact. A sandal with a yellow flower lay beside a puddle of blood, and sheep and a horse that had belonged to those seeking shelter grazed nearby. Dozens of people, including children, were wheeled into a nearby hospital.

It was the fourth time a U.N. facility has been hit in fighting between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza, since the conflict began July 8. UNRWA, the Palestinian refugee agency, has said it has found militant rockets inside two vacant schools.

The Palestinian Red Crescent said Israeli shells had hit the compound.

The Israeli military said Hamas had launched rockets that fell in the area that could have been responsible for the deaths.

“We can’t confirm that this is a result of errant fire. In any case, we do not target U.N. facilities,” military spokesman Lt. Col. Peter Lerner said. Lerner said the military had urged the U.N. and the Red Cross to evacuate the school for three days leading up to the incident.

The U.N. said it was trying to do just that when the school was hit. Agency spokesman Chris Gunness said the U.N. had asked the Israeli military for a lull in fighting to allow for the school’s evacuation but did not hear back.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said U.N. staff were among the casualties and demanded that Israel and Hamas abide by international humanitarian law, respect “the sanctity of civilian life, the inviolability of U.N. premises” and protect humanitarian workers. He said more than 100,000 Gazans have sought refuge in UNRWA facilities.

“Today’s attack underscores the imperative for the killing to stop – and to stop now,” Ban said during a visit to Iraq.

Israel insists it does its utmost to prevent civilian casualties but says Hamas puts Palestinians in danger by hiding arms and fighters in civilian areas. Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum condemned the violence, saying Israel was targeting displaced people and “committing massacres.”

Dozens of other people also were killed in a day of heavy fighting throughout the coastal territory, raising the overall Palestinian death toll in the conflict to at least 788, Gaza health official Ashraf al-Kidra said. Israel has lost 32 soldiers, all since July 17, when it widened its air campaign into a full-scale ground operation. Two Israeli civilians and a Thai worker in Israel have also been killed by rocket or mortar fire.

With the number of casualties growing on both sides, the international community has stepped up diplomatic efforts to broker a cease-fire. But Hamas is insisting on the lifting of the 7-year-old blockade, which was imposed when the Islamic militant group seized control of Gaza from the Western-backed government of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Israel says the war is meant to halt rocket fire from Palestinian militants in Gaza and destroy a sophisticated network of cross-border tunnels.

Israel imposed the blockade in 2006 after Hamas and other militants abducted an Israeli soldier in a deadly cross-border raid. It tightened the siege in 2007 after Hamas seized power from forces loyal to Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, but had eased some of the restrictions in recent years.

Egypt tightened its own restrictions last year after the overthrow of a Hamas-friendly government in Cairo and has destroyed many of the cross-border smuggling tunnels that sustained Gaza’s economy, and which were also used by Hamas to bring in arms.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry spent the day in Cairo feverishly calling on regional leaders to help push Israel and Hamas agree to a cease-fire as a necessary first step toward resolving some their long-standing mutual grievances.

As in years past – most recently in 2012 – the U.S. wants the violence to stop before it tries to negotiate specific demands each side has put forward. For Hamas, that includes the release of Palestinian prisoners in addition to the end of the economic blockade against Gaza.

Kerry did not make any public appearances on Thursday as he called foreign ministers in Turkey and Qatar – who have influence with Hamas – and Netanyahu to try to press a solution. Like Israel, the U.S. considers Hamas a terrorist organization and will not directly engage with its leaders.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Thursday’s attack on the U.N. school “underscores the need to end the violence and to achieve a sustainable cease-fire and enduring resolution to the crisis in Gaza as soon as possible.”

“We call on all parties to protect these facilities from the conflict and we condemn those responsible for hiding weapons in United Nations facilities in Gaza,” Psaki added.

British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, meanwhile, urged Hamas to agree on an immediate humanitarian cease-fire and said Israel and Palestinian Authority could then come together to hold talks.

“Hamas must agree to a humanitarian cease-fire without preconditions for the sake of the people in Gaza,” he said during a news conference after meetings with Egyptian officials in Cairo.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, however, made no reference to the cease-fire efforts in underscoring his determination to neutralize 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,” Netanyahu said after meeting with Hammond earlier Thursday in Israel.

In other violence, six members of the same family and an 18-month-old infant boy were killed when an Israeli airstrike hit the Jebaliya refugee camp early Thursday, according to Gaza police and health officials. Another airstrike on a home in the southern Gaza town of Abassan killed five members of another family, al-Kidra said.

Heavy fighting was reported along the border of central Gaza, according to Gaza police spokesman Ayman Batniji. Israeli troops fired tank shells that reached parts of the Bureij and Maghazi refugee camps, although no injuries were immediately reported. Clashes also erupted between Palestinian fighters and Israeli troops in the northern town of Beit Lahiya, Batniji said.

Israeli naval vessels meanwhile fired more than 100 shells along the coast of Gaza City and northern Gaza, the spokesman said, adding that rescue teams were unable to operate in the area because of the heavy fire.

Enav reported from Jerusalem. Associated Press writers Maggie Michael in Cairo and Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations contributed to this report.

UN school in Gaza caught in cross-fire; 15 killed

KDWN

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — Israeli tank shells hit a compound housing a U.N. school in the Gaza Strip on Thursday, killing at least 15 people and wounding dozens who were seeking shelter from fierce clashes on the streets outside, Palestinian officials said, as Israel pressed forward with its 17-day war against the territory’s Hamas rulers.

The U.N. said the strike occurred as staff members were trying to arrange a humanitarian pause in the hostilities so they could evacuate the civilians from the compound in the northern town of Beit Hanoun. The Israeli military said it was reviewing the incident and suggested Hamas rockets may have been to blame, although it offered no proof.

Kamel al-Kafarne, who was in the school, said that the U.N. was putting people on buses when three tank shells hit.

“We were about to get out of the school, then they hit the school. They kept on shelling it,” he said.

Books, blankets, cushions and other belongings were scattered about the courtyard in the aftermath of the explosion. There was a large scorch mark in the courtyard marking the apparent site of impact. A sandal with a yellow flower lay beside a puddle of blood, and sheep and a horse that had belonged to those seeking shelter grazed nearby. Dozens of people, including children, were wheeled into a nearby hospital.

It was the fourth time a U.N. facility has been hit in fighting between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza, since the conflict began July 8. UNRWA, the Palestinian refugee agency, has said it has found militant rockets inside two vacant schools.

The Palestinian Red Crescent said Israeli shells had hit the compound.

The Israeli military said Hamas had launched rockets that fell in the area that could have been responsible for the deaths.

“We can’t confirm that this is a result of errant fire. In any case, we do not target U.N. facilities,” military spokesman Lt. Col. Peter Lerner said. Lerner said the military had urged the U.N. and the Red Cross to evacuate the school for three days leading up to the incident.

The U.N. said it was trying to do just that when the school was hit. Agency spokesman Chris Gunness said the U.N. had asked the Israeli military for a lull in fighting to allow for the school’s evacuation but did not hear back.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said U.N. staff were among the casualties and demanded that Israel and Hamas abide by international humanitarian law, respect “the sanctity of civilian life, the inviolability of U.N. premises” and protect humanitarian workers. He said more than 100,000 Gazans have sought refuge in UNRWA facilities.

“Today’s attack underscores the imperative for the killing to stop – and to stop now,” Ban said during a visit to Iraq.

Israel insists it does its utmost to prevent civilian casualties but says Hamas puts Palestinians in danger by hiding arms and fighters in civilian areas. Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum condemned the violence, saying Israel was targeting displaced people and “committing massacres.”

Dozens of other people also were killed in a day of heavy fighting throughout the coastal territory, raising the overall Palestinian death toll in the conflict to at least 788, Gaza health official Ashraf al-Kidra said. Israel has lost 32 soldiers, all since July 17, when it widened its air campaign into a full-scale ground operation. Two Israeli civilians and a Thai worker in Israel have also been killed by rocket or mortar fire.

With the number of casualties growing on both sides, the international community has stepped up diplomatic efforts to broker a cease-fire. But Hamas is insisting on the lifting of the 7-year-old blockade, which was imposed when the Islamic militant group seized control of Gaza from the Western-backed government of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Israel says the war is meant to halt rocket fire from Palestinian militants in Gaza and destroy a sophisticated network of cross-border tunnels.

Israel imposed the blockade in 2006 after Hamas and other militants abducted an Israeli soldier in a deadly cross-border raid. It tightened the siege in 2007 after Hamas seized power from forces loyal to Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, but had eased some of the restrictions in recent years.

Egypt tightened its own restrictions last year after the overthrow of a Hamas-friendly government in Cairo and has destroyed many of the cross-border smuggling tunnels that sustained Gaza’s economy, and which were also used by Hamas to bring in arms.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry spent the day in Cairo feverishly calling on regional leaders to help push Israel and Hamas agree to a cease-fire as a necessary first step toward resolving some their long-standing mutual grievances.

As in years past – most recently in 2012 – the U.S. wants the violence to stop before it tries to negotiate specific demands each side has put forward. For Hamas, that includes the release of Palestinian prisoners in addition to the end of the economic blockade against Gaza.

Kerry did not make any public appearances on Thursday as he called foreign ministers in Turkey and Qatar – who have influence with Hamas – and Netanyahu to try to press a solution. Like Israel, the U.S. considers Hamas a terrorist organization and will not directly engage with its leaders.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Thursday’s attack on the U.N. school “underscores the need to end the violence and to achieve a sustainable cease-fire and enduring resolution to the crisis in Gaza as soon as possible.”

“We call on all parties to protect these facilities from the conflict and we condemn those responsible for hiding weapons in United Nations facilities in Gaza,” Psaki added.

British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, meanwhile, urged Hamas to agree on an immediate humanitarian cease-fire and said Israel and Palestinian Authority could then come together to hold talks.

“Hamas must agree to a humanitarian cease-fire without preconditions for the sake of the people in Gaza,” he said during a news conference after meetings with Egyptian officials in Cairo.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, however, made no reference to the cease-fire efforts in underscoring his determination to neutralize 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,” Netanyahu said after meeting with Hammond earlier Thursday in Israel.

In other violence, six members of the same family and an 18-month-old infant boy were killed when an Israeli airstrike hit the Jebaliya refugee camp early Thursday, according to Gaza police and health officials. Another airstrike on a home in the southern Gaza town of Abassan killed five members of another family, al-Kidra said.

Heavy fighting was reported along the border of central Gaza, according to Gaza police spokesman Ayman Batniji. Israeli troops fired tank shells that reached parts of the Bureij and Maghazi refugee camps, although no injuries were immediately reported. Clashes also erupted between Palestinian fighters and Israeli troops in the northern town of Beit Lahiya, Batniji said.

Israeli naval vessels meanwhile fired more than 100 shells along the coast of Gaza City and northern Gaza, the spokesman said, adding that rescue teams were unable to operate in the area because of the heavy fire.

Enav reported from Jerusalem. Associated Press writers Maggie Michael in Cairo and Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations contributed to this report.

UN school in Gaza caught in cross-fire; 15 killed

KDWN

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — Israeli tank shells hit a compound housing a U.N. school in the Gaza Strip on Thursday, killing at least 15 people and wounding dozens who were seeking shelter from fierce clashes on the streets outside, Palestinian officials said, as Israel pressed forward with its 17-day war against the territory’s Hamas rulers.

The U.N. said the strike occurred as staff members were trying to arrange a humanitarian pause in the hostilities so they could evacuate the civilians from the compound in the northern town of Beit Hanoun. The Israeli military said it was reviewing the incident and suggested Hamas rockets may have been to blame, although it offered no proof.

Kamel al-Kafarne, who was in the school, said that the U.N. was putting people on buses when three tank shells hit.

“We were about to get out of the school, then they hit the school. They kept on shelling it,” he said.

Books, blankets, cushions and other belongings were scattered about the courtyard in the aftermath of the explosion. There was a large scorch mark in the courtyard marking the apparent site of impact. A sandal with a yellow flower lay beside a puddle of blood, and sheep and a horse that had belonged to those seeking shelter grazed nearby. Dozens of people, including children, were wheeled into a nearby hospital.

It was the fourth time a U.N. facility has been hit in fighting between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza, since the conflict began July 8. UNRWA, the Palestinian refugee agency, has said it has found militant rockets inside two vacant schools.

The Palestinian Red Crescent said Israeli shells had hit the compound.

The Israeli military said Hamas had launched rockets that fell in the area that could have been responsible for the deaths.

“We can’t confirm that this is a result of errant fire. In any case, we do not target U.N. facilities,” military spokesman Lt. Col. Peter Lerner said. Lerner said the military had urged the U.N. and the Red Cross to evacuate the school for three days leading up to the incident.

The U.N. said it was trying to do just that when the school was hit. Agency spokesman Chris Gunness said the U.N. had asked the Israeli military for a lull in fighting to allow for the school’s evacuation but did not hear back.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said U.N. staff were among the casualties and demanded that Israel and Hamas abide by international humanitarian law, respect “the sanctity of civilian life, the inviolability of U.N. premises” and protect humanitarian workers. He said more than 100,000 Gazans have sought refuge in UNRWA facilities.

“Today’s attack underscores the imperative for the killing to stop – and to stop now,” Ban said during a visit to Iraq.

Israel insists it does its utmost to prevent civilian casualties but says Hamas puts Palestinians in danger by hiding arms and fighters in civilian areas. Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum condemned the violence, saying Israel was targeting displaced people and “committing massacres.”

Dozens of other people also were killed in a day of heavy fighting throughout the coastal territory, raising the overall Palestinian death toll in the conflict to at least 788, Gaza health official Ashraf al-Kidra said. Israel has lost 32 soldiers, all since July 17, when it widened its air campaign into a full-scale ground operation. Two Israeli civilians and a Thai worker in Israel have also been killed by rocket or mortar fire.

With the number of casualties growing on both sides, the international community has stepped up diplomatic efforts to broker a cease-fire. But Hamas is insisting on the lifting of the 7-year-old blockade, which was imposed when the Islamic militant group seized control of Gaza from the Western-backed government of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Israel says the war is meant to halt rocket fire from Palestinian militants in Gaza and destroy a sophisticated network of cross-border tunnels.

Israel imposed the blockade in 2006 after Hamas and other militants abducted an Israeli soldier in a deadly cross-border raid. It tightened the siege in 2007 after Hamas seized power from forces loyal to Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, but had eased some of the restrictions in recent years.

Egypt tightened its own restrictions last year after the overthrow of a Hamas-friendly government in Cairo and has destroyed many of the cross-border smuggling tunnels that sustained Gaza’s economy, and which were also used by Hamas to bring in arms.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry spent the day in Cairo feverishly calling on regional leaders to help push Israel and Hamas agree to a cease-fire as a necessary first step toward resolving some their long-standing mutual grievances.

As in years past – most recently in 2012 – the U.S. wants the violence to stop before it tries to negotiate specific demands each side has put forward. For Hamas, that includes the release of Palestinian prisoners in addition to the end of the economic blockade against Gaza.

Kerry did not make any public appearances on Thursday as he called foreign ministers in Turkey and Qatar – who have influence with Hamas – and Netanyahu to try to press a solution. Like Israel, the U.S. considers Hamas a terrorist organization and will not directly engage with its leaders.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Thursday’s attack on the U.N. school “underscores the need to end the violence and to achieve a sustainable cease-fire and enduring resolution to the crisis in Gaza as soon as possible.”

“We call on all parties to protect these facilities from the conflict and we condemn those responsible for hiding weapons in United Nations facilities in Gaza,” Psaki added.

British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, meanwhile, urged Hamas to agree on an immediate humanitarian cease-fire and said Israel and Palestinian Authority could then come together to hold talks.

“Hamas must agree to a humanitarian cease-fire without preconditions for the sake of the people in Gaza,” he said during a news conference after meetings with Egyptian officials in Cairo.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, however, made no reference to the cease-fire efforts in underscoring his determination to neutralize 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,” Netanyahu said after meeting with Hammond earlier Thursday in Israel.

In other violence, six members of the same family and an 18-month-old infant boy were killed when an Israeli airstrike hit the Jebaliya refugee camp early Thursday, according to Gaza police and health officials. Another airstrike on a home in the southern Gaza town of Abassan killed five members of another family, al-Kidra said.

Heavy fighting was reported along the border of central Gaza, according to Gaza police spokesman Ayman Batniji. Israeli troops fired tank shells that reached parts of the Bureij and Maghazi refugee camps, although no injuries were immediately reported. Clashes also erupted between Palestinian fighters and Israeli troops in the northern town of Beit Lahiya, Batniji said.

Israeli naval vessels meanwhile fired more than 100 shells along the coast of Gaza City and northern Gaza, the spokesman said, adding that rescue teams were unable to operate in the area because of the heavy fire.

Enav reported from Jerusalem. Associated Press writers Maggie Michael in Cairo and Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations contributed to this report.

UN school in Gaza caught in cross-fire; 15 killed

KDWN

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — Israeli tank shells hit a compound housing a U.N. school in the Gaza Strip on Thursday, killing at least 15 people and wounding dozens who were seeking shelter from fierce clashes on the streets outside, Palestinian officials said, as Israel pressed forward with its 17-day war against the territory’s Hamas rulers.

The U.N. said the strike occurred as staff members were trying to arrange a humanitarian pause in the hostilities so they could evacuate the civilians from the compound in the northern town of Beit Hanoun. The Israeli military said it was reviewing the incident and suggested Hamas rockets may have been to blame, although it offered no proof.

Kamel al-Kafarne, who was in the school, said that the U.N. was putting people on buses when three tank shells hit.

“We were about to get out of the school, then they hit the school. They kept on shelling it,” he said.

Books, blankets, cushions and other belongings were scattered about the courtyard in the aftermath of the explosion. There was a large scorch mark in the courtyard marking the apparent site of impact. A sandal with a yellow flower lay beside a puddle of blood, and sheep and a horse that had belonged to those seeking shelter grazed nearby. Dozens of people, including children, were wheeled into a nearby hospital.

It was the fourth time a U.N. facility has been hit in fighting between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza, since the conflict began July 8. UNRWA, the Palestinian refugee agency, has said it has found militant rockets inside two vacant schools.

The Palestinian Red Crescent said Israeli shells had hit the compound.

The Israeli military said Hamas had launched rockets that fell in the area that could have been responsible for the deaths.

“We can’t confirm that this is a result of errant fire. In any case, we do not target U.N. facilities,” military spokesman Lt. Col. Peter Lerner said. Lerner said the military had urged the U.N. and the Red Cross to evacuate the school for three days leading up to the incident.

The U.N. said it was trying to do just that when the school was hit. Agency spokesman Chris Gunness said the U.N. had asked the Israeli military for a lull in fighting to allow for the school’s evacuation but did not hear back.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said U.N. staff were among the casualties and demanded that Israel and Hamas abide by international humanitarian law, respect “the sanctity of civilian life, the inviolability of U.N. premises” and protect humanitarian workers. He said more than 100,000 Gazans have sought refuge in UNRWA facilities.

“Today’s attack underscores the imperative for the killing to stop – and to stop now,” Ban said during a visit to Iraq.

Israel insists it does its utmost to prevent civilian casualties but says Hamas puts Palestinians in danger by hiding arms and fighters in civilian areas. Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum condemned the violence, saying Israel was targeting displaced people and “committing massacres.”

Dozens of other people also were killed in a day of heavy fighting throughout the coastal territory, raising the overall Palestinian death toll in the conflict to at least 788, Gaza health official Ashraf al-Kidra said. Israel has lost 32 soldiers, all since July 17, when it widened its air campaign into a full-scale ground operation. Two Israeli civilians and a Thai worker in Israel have also been killed by rocket or mortar fire.

With the number of casualties growing on both sides, the international community has stepped up diplomatic efforts to broker a cease-fire. But Hamas is insisting on the lifting of the 7-year-old blockade, which was imposed when the Islamic militant group seized control of Gaza from the Western-backed government of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Israel says the war is meant to halt rocket fire from Palestinian militants in Gaza and destroy a sophisticated network of cross-border tunnels.

Israel imposed the blockade in 2006 after Hamas and other militants abducted an Israeli soldier in a deadly cross-border raid. It tightened the siege in 2007 after Hamas seized power from forces loyal to Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, but had eased some of the restrictions in recent years.

Egypt tightened its own restrictions last year after the overthrow of a Hamas-friendly government in Cairo and has destroyed many of the cross-border smuggling tunnels that sustained Gaza’s economy, and which were also used by Hamas to bring in arms.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry spent the day in Cairo feverishly calling on regional leaders to help push Israel and Hamas agree to a cease-fire as a necessary first step toward resolving some their long-standing mutual grievances.

As in years past – most recently in 2012 – the U.S. wants the violence to stop before it tries to negotiate specific demands each side has put forward. For Hamas, that includes the release of Palestinian prisoners in addition to the end of the economic blockade against Gaza.

Kerry did not make any public appearances on Thursday as he called foreign ministers in Turkey and Qatar – who have influence with Hamas – and Netanyahu to try to press a solution. Like Israel, the U.S. considers Hamas a terrorist organization and will not directly engage with its leaders.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Thursday’s attack on the U.N. school “underscores the need to end the violence and to achieve a sustainable cease-fire and enduring resolution to the crisis in Gaza as soon as possible.”

“We call on all parties to protect these facilities from the conflict and we have condemn those responsible for hiding weapons in United Nations facilities in Gaza,” Psaki added.

British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, meanwhile, urged Hamas to agree on an immediate humanitarian cease-fire and said Israel and Palestinian Authority could then come together to hold talks.

“Hamas must agree to a humanitarian cease-fire without preconditions for the sake of the people in Gaza,” he said during a news conference after meetings with Egyptian officials in Cairo.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, however, made no reference to the cease-fire efforts in underscoring his determination to neutralize 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,” Netanyahu said after meeting with Hammond earlier Thursday in Israel.

In other violence, six members of the same family and an 18-month-old infant boy were killed when an Israeli airstrike hit the Jebaliya refugee camp early Thursday, according to Gaza police and health officials. Another airstrike on a home in the southern Gaza town of Abassan killed five members of another family, al-Kidra said.

Heavy fighting was reported along the border of central Gaza, according to Gaza police spokesman Ayman Batniji. Israeli troops fired tank shells that reached parts of the Bureij and Maghazi refugee camps, although no injuries were immediately reported. Clashes also erupted between Palestinian fighters and Israeli troops in the northern town of Beit Lahiya, Batniji said.

Israeli naval vessels meanwhile fired more than 100 shells along the coast of Gaza City and northern Gaza, the spokesman said, adding that rescue teams were unable to operate in the area because of the heavy fire.

Enav reported from Jerusalem. Associated Press writers Maggie Michael in Cairo and Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations contributed to this report.

UN school in Gaza caught in cross-fire; 15 killed

KDWN

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — Israeli tank shells hit a compound housing a U.N. school in the Gaza Strip on Thursday, killing at least 15 people and wounding dozens who were seeking shelter from fierce clashes on the streets outside, Palestinian officials said, as Israel pressed forward with its 17-day war against the territory’s Hamas rulers.

The U.N. said the strike occurred as staff members were trying to arrange a humanitarian pause in the hostilities so they could evacuate the civilians from the compound in the northern town of Beit Hanoun. The Israeli military said it was reviewing the incident and suggested Hamas rockets may have been to blame, although it offered no proof.

Kamel al-Kafarne, who was in the school, said that the U.N. was putting people on buses when three tank shells hit.

“We were about to get out of the school, then they hit the school. They kept on shelling it,” he said.

Books, blankets, cushions and other belongings were scattered about the courtyard in the aftermath of the explosion. There was a large scorch mark in the courtyard marking the apparent site of impact. A sandal with a yellow flower lay beside a puddle of blood, and sheep and a horse that had belonged to those seeking shelter grazed nearby. Dozens of people, including children, were wheeled into a nearby hospital.

It was the fourth time a U.N. facility has been hit in fighting between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza, since the conflict began July 8. UNRWA, the Palestinian refugee agency, has said it has found militant rockets inside two vacant schools.

The Palestinian Red Crescent said Israeli shells had hit the compound.

The Israeli military said Hamas had launched rockets that fell in the area that could have been responsible for the deaths.

“We can’t confirm that this is a result of errant fire. In any case, we do not target U.N. facilities,” military spokesman Lt. Col. Peter Lerner said. Lerner said the military had urged the U.N. and the Red Cross to evacuate the school for three days leading up to the incident.

The U.N. said it was trying to do just that when the school was hit. Agency spokesman Chris Gunness said the U.N. had asked the Israeli military for a lull in fighting to allow for the school’s evacuation but did not hear back.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said U.N. staff were among the casualties and demanded that Israel and Hamas abide by international humanitarian law, respect “the sanctity of civilian life, the inviolability of U.N. premises” and protect humanitarian workers. He said more than 100,000 Gazans have sought refuge in UNRWA facilities.

“Today’s attack underscores the imperative for the killing to stop – and to stop now,” Ban said during a visit to Iraq.

Israel insists it does its utmost to prevent civilian casualties but says Hamas puts Palestinians in danger by hiding arms and fighters in civilian areas. Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum condemned the violence, saying Israel was targeting displaced people and “committing massacres.”

Dozens of other people also were killed in a day of heavy fighting throughout the coastal territory, raising the overall Palestinian death toll in the conflict to at least 788, Gaza health official Ashraf al-Kidra said. Israel has lost 32 soldiers, all since July 17, when it widened its air campaign into a full-scale ground operation. Two Israeli civilians and a Thai worker in Israel have also been killed by rocket or mortar fire.

With the number of casualties growing on both sides, the international community has stepped up diplomatic efforts to broker a cease-fire. But Hamas is insisting on the lifting of the 7-year-old blockade, which was imposed when the Islamic militant group seized control of Gaza from the Western-backed government of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Israel says the war is meant to halt rocket fire from Palestinian militants in Gaza and destroy a sophisticated network of cross-border tunnels.

Israel imposed the blockade in 2006 after Hamas and other militants abducted an Israeli soldier in a deadly cross-border raid. It tightened the siege in 2007 after Hamas seized power from forces loyal to Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, but had eased some of the restrictions in recent years.

Egypt tightened its own restrictions last year after the overthrow of a Hamas-friendly government in Cairo and has destroyed many of the cross-border smuggling tunnels that sustained Gaza’s economy, and which were also used by Hamas to bring in arms.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry spent the day in Cairo feverishly calling on regional leaders to help push Israel and Hamas agree to a cease-fire as a necessary first step toward resolving some their long-standing mutual grievances.

As in years past – most recently in 2012 – the U.S. wants the violence to stop before it tries to negotiate specific demands each side has put forward. For Hamas, that includes the release of Palestinian prisoners in addition to the end of the economic blockade against Gaza.

Kerry did not make any public appearances on Thursday as he called foreign ministers in Turkey and Qatar – who have influence with Hamas – and Netanyahu to try to press a solution. Like Israel, the U.S. considers Hamas a terrorist organization and will not directly engage with its leaders.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Thursday’s attack on the U.N. school “underscores the need to end the violence and to achieve a sustainable cease-fire and enduring resolution to the crisis in Gaza as soon as possible.”

“We call on all parties to protect these facilities from the conflict and we have condemn those responsible for hiding weapons in United Nations facilities in Gaza,” Psaki added.

British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, meanwhile, urged Hamas to agree on an immediate humanitarian cease-fire and said Israel and Palestinian Authority could then come together to hold talks.

“Hamas must agree to a humanitarian cease-fire without preconditions for the sake of the people in Gaza,” he said during a news conference after meetings with Egyptian officials in Cairo.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, however, made no reference to the cease-fire efforts in underscoring his determination to neutralize 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,” Netanyahu said after meeting with Hammond earlier Thursday in Israel.

In other violence, six members of the same family and an 18-month-old infant boy were killed when an Israeli airstrike hit the Jebaliya refugee camp early Thursday, according to Gaza police and health officials. Another airstrike on a home in the southern Gaza town of Abassan killed five members of another family, al-Kidra said.

Heavy fighting was reported along the border of central Gaza, according to Gaza police spokesman Ayman Batniji. Israeli troops fired tank shells that reached parts of the Bureij and Maghazi refugee camps, although no injuries were immediately reported. Clashes also erupted between Palestinian fighters and Israeli troops in the northern town of Beit Lahiya, Batniji said.

Israeli naval vessels meanwhile fired more than 100 shells along the coast of Gaza City and northern Gaza, the spokesman said, adding that rescue teams were unable to operate in the area because of the heavy fire.

Enav reported from Jerusalem. Associated Press writers Maggie Michael in Cairo and Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations contributed to this report.

UN school in Gaza caught in cross-fire; 15 killed

KDWN

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — Israeli tank shells hit a compound housing a U.N. school in the Gaza Strip on Thursday, killing at least 15 people and wounding dozens who were seeking shelter from fierce clashes on the streets outside, Palestinian officials said, as Israel pressed forward with its 17-day war against the territory’s Hamas rulers.

The U.N. said the strike occurred as staff members were trying to arrange a humanitarian pause in the hostilities so they could evacuate the civilians from the compound in the northern town of Beit Hanoun. The Israeli military said it was reviewing the incident and suggested Hamas rockets may have been to blame, although it offered no proof.

Kamel al-Kafarne, who was in the school, said that the U.N. was putting people on buses when three tank shells hit.

“We were about to get out of the school, then they hit the school. They kept on shelling it,” he said.

Books, blankets, cushions and other belongings were scattered about the courtyard in the aftermath of the explosion. There was a large scorch mark in the courtyard marking the apparent site of impact. A sandal with a yellow flower lay beside a puddle of blood, and sheep and a horse that had belonged to those seeking shelter grazed nearby. Dozens of people, including children, were wheeled into a nearby hospital.

It was the fourth time a U.N. facility has been hit in fighting between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza, since the conflict began July 8. UNRWA, the Palestinian refugee agency, has said it has found militant rockets inside two vacant schools.

The Palestinian Red Crescent said Israeli shells had hit the compound.

The Israeli military said Hamas had launched rockets that fell in the area that could have been responsible for the deaths.

“We can’t confirm that this is a result of errant fire. In any case, we do not target U.N. facilities,” military spokesman Lt. Col. Peter Lerner said. Lerner said the military had urged the U.N. and the Red Cross to evacuate the school for three days leading up to the incident.

The U.N. said it was trying to do just that when the school was hit. Agency spokesman Chris Gunness said the U.N. had asked the Israeli military for a lull in fighting to allow for the school’s evacuation but did not hear back.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said U.N. staff were among the casualties and demanded that Israel and Hamas abide by international humanitarian law, respect “the sanctity of civilian life, the inviolability of U.N. premises” and protect humanitarian workers. He said more than 100,000 Gazans have sought refuge in UNRWA facilities.

“Today’s attack underscores the imperative for the killing to stop – and to stop now,” Ban said during a visit to Iraq.

Israel insists it does its utmost to prevent civilian casualties but says Hamas puts Palestinians in danger by hiding arms and fighters in civilian areas. Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum condemned the violence, saying Israel was targeting displaced people and “committing massacres.”

Dozens of other people also were killed in a day of heavy fighting throughout the coastal territory, raising the overall Palestinian death toll in the conflict to at least 788, Gaza health official Ashraf al-Kidra said. Israel has lost 32 soldiers, all since July 17, when it widened its air campaign into a full-scale ground operation. Two Israeli civilians and a Thai worker in Israel have also been killed by rocket or mortar fire.

With the number of casualties growing on both sides, the international community has stepped up diplomatic efforts to broker a cease-fire. But Hamas is insisting on the lifting of the 7-year-old blockade, which was imposed when the Islamic militant group seized control of Gaza from the Western-backed government of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Israel says the war is meant to halt rocket fire from Palestinian militants in Gaza and destroy a sophisticated network of cross-border tunnels.

Israel imposed the blockade in 2006 after Hamas and other militants abducted an Israeli soldier in a deadly cross-border raid. It tightened the siege in 2007 after Hamas seized power from forces loyal to Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, but had eased some of the restrictions in recent years.

Egypt tightened its own restrictions last year after the overthrow of a Hamas-friendly government in Cairo and has destroyed many of the cross-border smuggling tunnels that sustained Gaza’s economy, and which were also used by Hamas to bring in arms.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry spent the day in Cairo feverishly calling on regional leaders to help push Israel and Hamas agree to a cease-fire as a necessary first step toward resolving some their long-standing mutual grievances.

As in years past – most recently in 2012 – the U.S. wants the violence to stop before it tries to negotiate specific demands each side has put forward. For Hamas, that includes the release of Palestinian prisoners in addition to the end of the economic blockade against Gaza.

Kerry did not make any public appearances on Thursday as he called foreign ministers in Turkey and Qatar – who have influence with Hamas – and Netanyahu to try to press a solution. Like Israel, the U.S. considers Hamas a terrorist organization and will not directly engage with its leaders.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Thursday’s attack on the U.N. school “underscores the need to end the violence and to achieve a sustainable cease-fire and enduring resolution to the crisis in Gaza as soon as possible.”

“We call on all parties to protect these facilities from the conflict and we have condemn those responsible for hiding weapons in United Nations facilities in Gaza,” Psaki added.

British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, meanwhile, urged Hamas to agree on an immediate humanitarian cease-fire and said Israel and Palestinian Authority could then come together to hold talks.

“Hamas must agree to a humanitarian cease-fire without preconditions for the sake of the people in Gaza,” he said during a news conference after meetings with Egyptian officials in Cairo.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, however, made no reference to the cease-fire efforts in underscoring his determination to neutralize 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,” Netanyahu said after meeting with Hammond earlier Thursday in Israel.

In other violence, six members of the same family and an 18-month-old infant boy were killed when an Israeli airstrike hit the Jebaliya refugee camp early Thursday, according to Gaza police and health officials. Another airstrike on a home in the southern Gaza town of Abassan killed five members of another family, al-Kidra said.

Heavy fighting was reported along the border of central Gaza, according to Gaza police spokesman Ayman Batniji. Israeli troops fired tank shells that reached parts of the Bureij and Maghazi refugee camps, although no injuries were immediately reported. Clashes also erupted between Palestinian fighters and Israeli troops in the northern town of Beit Lahiya, Batniji said.

Israeli naval vessels meanwhile fired more than 100 shells along the coast of Gaza City and northern Gaza, the spokesman said, adding that rescue teams were unable to operate in the area because of the heavy fire.

Enav reported from Jerusalem. Associated Press writers Maggie Michael in Cairo and Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations contributed to this report.