Israeli bombing kills dozens sheltering at UN school

Palestinians observe the aftermath of an Israeli attack on a UN school housing displaced people in Nuseirat refugee camp, central Gaza, 6 June.

Omar Ashtawy APA images

Israel bombed a United Nations school where displaced Palestinians had sought shelter in central Gaza early Thursday, killing at least 33 people, including 12 women and children, according to the health ministry in the territory.

At least 36,500 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza over the past eight months in what the UN’s World Court has warned may plausibly constitute a genocide.

Three prominent Palestinian human rights groups said that at least four missiles struck the southern building of the school in Nuseirat refugee camp.

The Israeli-fired weapons “directly penetrated the roof of the second and first floors, causing damage to several classrooms and leading to almost total destruction of the three-story building” and destroying water tanks.


Nearly 6,000 displaced people are sheltering at the school that was bombed, according to the UN human rights office, which said it was “shocked” by reports of the attack.

Josep Borrell, the EU foreign policy chief, said that the attack “must be independently investigated” in line with the last set of provisional measures handed down by the International Court of Justice. Borrell also pushed a three-phase ceasefire proposal put forward by Washington.

Both The Washington Post and CNN reported that US-supplied weapons were used in the deadly attack, which survivors said occurred without warning.

“CNN identified fragments of at least two US-made GBU-39 small diameter bombs (SDB) in video filmed at the scene by a journalist working for CNN,” the network stated.

The Washington Post analyzed verified footage recorded by an eyewitness that it said shows the distinctive “nose cone” of a GBU-39 bomb.

Emad Abu Shawish, who recorded the footage analyzed by the newspaper, said that he was woken up by the blast and found people “pulling dead and injured civilians from the rubble,” The Washington Post reported.

“Baby diapers, food, blankets and mattresses were scattered among the debris,” the paper added.

Without providing evidence, Israel claimed that the school was being used as a base by Hamas and that members of its elite Nukhba force were staying at the facility, the Tel Aviv newspaper Haaretz reported.

Hamas denied the Israeli assertion.

Israel’s military claimed to have taken measures to limit harm to civilians and targeted only the rooms in the school that it said “intelligence reports indicated were housing terrorists,” according to Haaretz.

Peter Lerner, the Israeli military’s chief English-language spokesperson, admitted that the deadly attack in Nuseirat was the fifth time in the last month that it had struck UN facilities on the pretext that they were being used as bases by Palestinian armed groups.

At least 450 displaced people have been killed while sheltering in UN facilities since 7 October, according to UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestine refugees.

“Targeting UN premises or using them for military purposes cannot become the new norm,” said Philippe Lazzarini, the head of UNRWA, on Thursday.


B’Tselem, an Israeli human rights group, said that even if Israel’s claim that the school in Nuseirat was being used to “plan military operations” was true, this “cannot justify the massive harm to civilians.”

The rights group said the strike that endangered and killed civilians was characteristic of Israel’s military campaign in Gaza and urged “the international community” to “use all tools at its disposal to stop the fighting and advance a hostage deal.”

The UN human rights office similarly said it was “deeply concerned that this strike suggests a failure by the [Israeli military] to ensure strict compliance with international humanitarian law.”

“While Israel has claimed that armed Palestinians were using the school as a base of operations, which itself would amount to a violation of [international humanitarian law], this would not allow or justify violations” of the principles of distinction, proportionality and precaution, the UN office added.

The international humanitarian law principle of distinction holds that parties to armed conflict “must at all times distinguish between civilians and combatants,” according to the International Committee of the Red Cross. “Attacks may only be directed against combatants. Attacks must not be directed against civilians.”

Francesca Albanese, an independent UN human rights expert, has said that “indiscriminate attacks, which do not distinguish military targets from protected persons and objects, cannot be proportionate and are always unlawful.”

Israel has previously lied about civilian infrastructure such as hospitals being used as military bases by Palestinian armed groups in an attempt to justify its attacks.

Meanwhile, Israel has turned UN schools and hospitals in Gaza into military barracks from which they may have conducted attacks on Palestinians.


On Wednesday, Al Mezan, a Palestinian human rights group, warned that as Israel advanced in Rafah, southernmost Gaza, it had intensified its attacks in central Gaza and that Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital, the main health facility serving the area, is “overloaded with injured patients.”

“We expect the situation to deteriorate further,” the group correctly predicted.

The UN human rights office also said on Wednesday that it was “deeply worried” over intensified Israeli military operations in central Gaza “resulting in further killings, maiming and displacement of already exhausted and long-suffering of Palestinian civilians.”

Israeli warplanes were pounding crowded refugee camps in central Gaza “and no evacuation order for those areas have been issued,” the human rights office added.

At least 70 Palestinians were killed and hundreds more injured in Israeli strikes overnight Tuesday.

On Wednesday, Doctors Without Borders said that at least 70 fatalities and 300 wounded people were brought to Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital in the past 48 hours.

The organization added that “these repeated mass casualties incidents are bringing the health system to the point of collapse and the situation on the ground is described as ‘apocalyptic’ by our teams.”

Displaced Palestinians forcibly transferred from Rafah in May are now having to move once again within central Gaza, with little to no resources or basic services available to them.

On Thursday, the UK charity Medical Aid for Palestinians said that Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital was “overwhelmed amid increased military attacks” in central Gaza over the past few days.

More than 300 patients “were admitted for urgent treatment” on Wednesday alone.

“Many of the one million people who have been forced to flee Rafah,” including the charity’s staff, “are now sheltering” in central Gaza, Medical Aid for Palestinians added.

Compounded crisis

Israel compounded the humanitarian crisis in Gaza when it seized and shuttered the Rafah crossing on the border with Egypt last month, throttling the transfer of humanitarian aid and supplies to the territory and preventing the evacuation of patients needing urgent medical treatment.

Tarek Loubani, an Ontario-based emergency room physician who has regularly worked in Gaza, discussed how the closure of Rafah crossing is resulting in the preventable deaths of dozens of patients injured in Israeli strikes on a recent episode of The Electronic Intifada Livestream:

Meanwhile, the closure prevents medication from being brought into Gaza and has disrupted the transfer of international medical practitioners in and out of the territory to support their exhausted and overwhelmed Palestinian colleagues.
Firk Shalltoot, Medical Aid for Palestinians’ director in Gaza, warned that “hospitals across Gaza are on the brink of collapse,” and called on the UK to “immediately end arms transfers to Israel that may be used in further atrocities.”

CNN noted that the attack in Nuseirat “is the second time in two weeks that CNN has been able to verify the use of US-manufactured munitions in deadly Israeli attacks on displaced Palestinians.”

US-sourced GBU-39 missiles used by Israel to kill two Hamas commanders in the Tal al-Sultan area of Rafah in late May caused a fire that killed at least 46 Palestinians at an encampment for displaced people, prompting worldwide condemnation.

The Biden administration has pushed Israel to use more precise weapons like the GBU-39 small diameter bombs and has paused the delivery of much heavier bunker buster bombs. But Israel’s use of the small-diameter weapons in densely populated areas has predictably resulted in high civilian casualties, as seen in Tal al-Sultan and Nuseirat.

The Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor has estimated that between early October and late April, Israel dropped some 70,000 tons of bombs on Gaza, which has a similar land area as the city of Las Vegas.

The massacre in Nuseirat occurred amid fresh warnings from humanitarian agencies over the “already dire sanitary emergency in Gaza,” as reported by UN News, and while displaced Palestinians “have no choice but to live amid the rubble and in destroyed UNRWA facilities.”

Those dire conditions will worsen and preventable disease outbreaks will spread more widely as summer temperatures rise, UN News added.

Catherine Russell, the head of the UN children’s fund UNICEF, said that “children in Gaza are living alongside mountains of trash and raw sewage as basic services reach a breaking point.”

Meanwhile, 9 out of 10 children in the territory have experienced severe food insecurity, according to UNICEF.

The head of the World Health Organization warned that the lack of clean drinking water risks the spread of cholera.

The Famine Early Warning System Network said at the end of May that it is possible, “if not likely,” that famine is ongoing in northern Gaza, despite the increased availability of food aid and market supplies increasing in March and April.

Dozens of Palestinian and international civil society organizations made an “urgent call to declare Gaza a famine-stricken area” on Wednesday.

They said that “the act of causing famine and destroying life-sustaining resources in Gaza” constitute a violation of the International Court of Justice’s provisional measures, “thus opening the possibility for prosecuting those responsible or delaying the delivery of aid before the International Criminal Court.”

Karim Khan, the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, has moved to issue arrest warrants against Israel’s prime minister and defense minister, citing the denial of life essentials to Palestinian civilians in Gaza.

The civil society groups called on the UN and the Palestinian Authority to “declare Gaza a famine-stricken area due to famine, environmental pollution and the spread of diseases” and plan to “elevate emergency relief levels.”




US iron clade blind support to Israel allowed carry out genocide in Gaza,which vice crime against humanity and against International human rights norms,the massacre accountability held in ICJ.

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Maureen Clare Murphy

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Maureen Clare Murphy is senior editor of The Electronic Intifada.