US condemns shelling of UN school in Gaza

 

 

 

The United States on Wednesday condemned the shelling of a United Nations-run school in the Gaza Strip that Palestinian officials said killed about 20 people.

The school was located in the Jabaliya refugee camp. It was reportedly hit by shells at about 5 a.m. local time Wednesday.

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“The United States condemns the shelling of a United Nations Relief and Works Agency [UNRWA] school in Gaza, which reportedly killed and injured innocent Palestinians — including children — and UN humanitarian workers,” National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan said in the statement.

A similar note was sounded by the White House’s principal deputy press secretary Eric Schultz, who spoke to reporters on board Air Force One as President Obama and his aides traveled back from an appearance in Kansas City, Mo.

Schultz also used the word “condemn,” regarding the hit on the school. According to the White House pool report, Shultz added that, while the United States recognizes Israel’s “right and obligation” to defend itself, “we’ve also [been] very clear that Israel needs to do more to live up to its own standards to limit the civilian casualties.”

Separately, State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf told reporters Wednesday that the United States is calling for an immediate investigation into the shelling of the school.

The Obama administration has been cautious in its statements about the conflict in Gaza, but the latest comments are a ramping-up of its rhetoric.

Last week, when 16 people were killed as shells hit a different United Nations-run school, Harf stopped short of condemnation, saying instead that the United States was “deeply saddened and concerned about the tragic incident at the … UNRWA school.”

On that occasion, she added that the administration “condemned those responsible for hiding weapons in UN facilities in Gaza.”

Pressed by one reporter on whether the United States condemned what had happened, Harf repeated that the administration was “saddened and concerned” and added, “I don’t think I could be more concerned than I just expressed.”

Israel has said that its forces were not responsible for the earlier attack.

On Wednesday, the administration refused to explicitly blame a specific group before a probe could determine who is responsible.

The administration also sent a signal to Hamas, suggesting it bore responsibility if weapons were being stored in the school.

The Obama administration, Meehan said, is “extremely concerned” that thousands of displaced Palestinians in Gaza who are taking shelter in U.N. schools are being put in danger by groups that use the locations to store arms. 

“We also condemn those responsible for hiding weapons in United Nations facilities in Gaza. All of these actions and similar ones earlier in the conflict are inconsistent with the U.N.’s neutrality. This violence underscores the need to achieve a cease-fire as soon as possible,” she said.

U.S. officials have repeatedly charged Hamas with hiding weapons at U.N. locations.

On Wednesday morning, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s spokesman, Mark Regev, said on CNN that he could not confirm whether Israel was responsible for the shelling.

Another Israeli military official told CNN that militants fired at Israeli soldiers in the area, who responded by returning fire. 

“If our forces were involved in a firefight, it’s because Hamas has decided that it’s open season on the U.N.,” Regev said.

U.N. spokesman Chris Gunness said his group’s initial analysis of the incident suggests Israeli artillery struck the school. But he also suggested Hamas is responsible for making U.N. facilities targets, according to CNN. 

“We condemn the group or groups who endangered civilians by placing these munitions in our school,” Gunness said.

After the attack, Israel said it would allow a four-hour “humanitarian window” on Wednesday afternoon in Gaza, but this would not apply to areas where Israel’s Defense Forces are operating. The IDF later tweeted that, since the humanitarian window began, more than two dozen rockets had been fired into Israel. 

Nearly 1,350 Palestinians — most of them civilians — have died since the conflict between Israel and Hamas erupted earlier this month. More than 50 Israeli soldiers and a few Israeli civilians have also died. 

Israel launched its ground invasion into Gaza almost two weeks ago in an effort to destroy Hamas-built tunnels that lead into Israel.

This story was updated at 7:31 p.m.