15 dead, scores hurt at U.N. school in Gaza
JERUSALEM - At least 15 Palestinians were killed and scores of people were wounded Thursday when explosions ripped through the courtyard of a U.N. school where hundreds who had fled fighting in the Gaza Strip had taken shelter, local health officials said.
Authorities in Hamas-controlled Gaza said the school had been hit by Israeli shelling. The Israeli army said the school may have been struck by errant shells during fighting with extremists, but it did not rule out the possibility that the compound had been hit by Hamas fire.
The incident came as the Palestinian death toll in the Israeli offensive against Hamas and allied extremist factions in Gaza climbed to more than 750.
The fighting sparked a massive street protest in the West Bank, raising the possibility that Israel could face disturbances in areas where Palestinians and Israeli settlers often live in uncomfortable proximity to one another.
Palestinians reported as many as four people were killed when Israeli forces used live ammunition to disperse a crowd of thousands that had marched on a checkpoint between Ramallah and Jerusalem, and there were reports of Palestinian protests near Jewish settlements in Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem. Police said 39 people were arrested in Jerusalem.
Late Thursday night, a glimmer of hope appeared with reports that a possible accord was near that would allow a weeklong pause in the fighting while regional officials broker new talks between Hamas and Israel toward a lasting cease-fire.
Details of an accord, first reported by Israeli media, would let Israeli forces remain in Gaza to continue destroying Hamas' tunnels.
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.
With Gaza hospitals struggling to cope with the large influx of wounded, the World Health Organization called for the creation of a humanitarian corridor to evacuate seriously injured people and bring in lifesaving medical supplies.
More than 4,500 people have been injured, according to local health officials.
Witnesses at the school in the northern Gaza Strip town of Beit Hanoun, where some 800 had sought shelter, said they had been gathering for possible evacuation after intensified fighting between Israeli forces and Hamas gunmen.
Shelters for 140,000
"We were waiting for buses to take us when the shells landed and cut the children to shreds," an injured youth sobbed in a televised interview from a neighboring hospital.
The Gaza Health Ministry said that about 200 people were injured at the school.
It was the fourth time a school of the U.N. Relief and Works Agency, which assists Palestinian refugees, had been hit since Israel launched its offensive against Hamas on July 8. On Wednesday, five people were reported injured when a school in Deir al Balah was struck by Israeli shell fire, the agency said.
About 140,000 who have fled areas of fighting are sheltering in UNRWA schools across the Gaza Strip, the agency says.
Chris Gunness, the chief UNRWA spokesman, said that the agency had given the Israeli military the GPS coordinates of the school and that it was clearly marked with a U.N. flag on top of the building.
Brig. Gen. Motti Almoz, the chief army spokesman, told Israeli Channel Ten television that there had been intensified activity in the area by Hamas fighters, who fired on Israeli forces, and that the army had also identified "Hamas fire landing in the area of the school." A military official said that Hamas gunmen fired antitank missiles at Israeli troops.
"Apparently there was errant fire there, either by us or Hamas," Almoz said. "We also fired there, and it could be that there is an errant shell, but we don't rule out the possibility that this was Hamas fire
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said U.N. staff were among the casualties.
The deaths reported in the West Bank came at the Qalandia checkpoint. But there were fears of more violence Friday, when Hamas called for marches after morning prayers in Ramallah and Hebron.
This article contains information from the Associated Press.