Israel on Wednesday came under intense international scrutiny, including from ally the United States, after it was accused of shelling a U.N. school in the Gaza Strip that killed more than a dozen people and wounded scores of others.
Gaza's Health Ministry said Israeli shelling had killed at least 15 Palestinians sheltering in a U.N.-run school and another 17 near a street market, Reuters news agency reported. The ministry said more than 100 people were also wounded in the attack.
Some 3,300 Palestinians, including many women and children, were taking refuge in the school in Jabalya refugee camp when it came under fire around dawn, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) said.
"Our initial assessment is that it was Israeli artillery that hit our school," UNRWA chief Pierre Krahenbuhl said in a statement after representatives of the agency visited the scene and examined fragments, craters and other damage.
It is the second time in a week that a U.N. school housing refugees has been hit, AFP said.
In a separate incident, Israeli shelling killed at least 17 people and wounded about 160 others near a fruit and vegetable market in Shejaia, a heavily bombarded neighborhood on the eastern outskirts of the city of Gaza, Reuters quoted the Health Ministry as saying.
U.S., U.N condemn school attack
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned the attack at the school, describing it as “unjustifiable.”
"This morning a U.N. school sheltering thousands of Palestinian families suffered a reprehensible attack," Ban said during a visit to Costa Rica.
"It is unjustifiable, and demands accountability and justice."
He also accused the Israeli military of ignoring repeated communications on the location of the school.
"I want to make it clear that the exact location of this elementary school has been communicated to the Israeli military authorities 17 times, as recently as last night, just a few hours before this attack," he said.
"They are aware of the coordinates and exact location of where these people are."
The United States, Israel’s principle international ally, also criticized the incident.
"The United States condemns the shelling of a UNRWA school in Gaza, which reportedly killed and injured innocent Palestinians, including children, and UN humanitarian workers," it said.
The U.S. also reiterated its call for an immediate ceasefire.
AFP quoted airport officials as saying an Israeli delegation arrived in Cairo to discuss with Egyptian officials a possible ceasefire in the Gaza Strip.
Cairo, a key mediator in truce negotiations between Israel and Gaza's Hamas rulers, was also expected to host a Palestinian delegation later this week.
Hamas has rejected a ceasefire in the brutal 23-day conflict without guarantees to an end of the blockade of Gaza, while Israel says it is intent on destroying tunnels used by militants to conduct attacks on its territory.
The Cairo airport officials did not identify the two-member Israeli delegation, but said they were scheduled to depart after a visit of several hours, in which they would discuss proposals for a truce.
According to the Gaza Health Ministry, 1,323 Palestinians, mostly civilians, have been killed since Israel began its offensive on July 8 with the declared aim of halting cross-border rocket fire. Ninety-six Palestinians were killed on Wednesday alone, Reuters reported.
On the Israeli side, 56 soldiers and three civilians have been killed.