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UN chief slams 'criminal' Israeli shelling of Gaza school

United Nation's Ban Ki-moon says Israel's latest attack on Gaza was 'yet another gross violation of international humanitarian law'
A man carries a wounded Palestinian kid to the hospital after Israeli artillery shelled another school run by UNRWA (AA)

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon strongly condemned the shelling of another UN school in Gaza Sunday, calling it "a moral outrage and a criminal act."

"This madness must stop," Ban said through his spokesman after at least 10 people were killed when a shell hit outside a UN school in Rafah crowded with Palestinian refugees.

It was the third time in 10 days that a UN school has been hit in Gaza, including the Israeli shelling four days ago of a school in Jabaliyah that killed 16 people.

Ban said the latest attack was "yet another gross violation of international humanitarian law," and said the Israel Defence Forces had been repeatedly informed of the UN sites where thousands of Palestinians have taken refuge.

"This attack, along with other breaches of international law, must be swiftly investigated and those responsible held accountable. It is a moral outrage and a criminal act," he said.

Ban repeated his demand for an immediate ceasefire, saying he was "profoundly dismayed over the appalling escalation of violence and loss of hundreds of Palestinian civilian life since the breach of the humanitarian ceasefire on 1 August."

"The resurgence in fighting has only exacerbated the man-made humanitarian and health crisis wreaking havoc in Gaza," he said.

The 27-day-old conflict has claimed the lives of 1,766 Palestinians, most of them civilians, according to an emergency services spokesman in Gaza.

Since the fighting began, 66 Israelis have been killed, 64 of them soldiers.

'Shock and disbelief'

Similarly, the head of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees expressed "shock and disbelief" over the shelling of the school.

Pierre Krahenbuhl, head of the UN Palestinian refugee relief agency, UNRWA, said the shell exploded just outside the main gates of the school in Rafah, causing multiple deaths and injuries inside and outside the building.

"Coming in the aftermath of a series of incidents, of shelling incidents in recent weeks and most recently the shelling of our school in Jabaliya, which provoked an outcry and was clearly and deservedly condemned by UNRWA and myself publicly, this is of course another incident that generates both shock and disbelief at the fact that it can happen again," he said on CBS's Face the Nation.

Krahenbuhl said about 3,000 people had taken shelter in the school.

Krahenbuhl acknowledged that on three occasions inspections had turned up weapons caches in UN premises.

"But clearly, nobody can suggest that because weapons are found in one premise that it can be in any sense a justification for shelling other schools and endangering the lives of displaced people in the middle of a war zone," he said.

Having seen the extent of the deaths and damage caused, he said, "there is no doubt in my mind whatsoever that insufficient measures of precaution and control and protection are being taken, including by the Israeli Defense Force, when engaging in Gaza."

Israel rules out dialogue with Hamas on Gaza

Meanwhile, Israel on Sunday opted to unilaterally redeploy its troops in Gaza without the need for dialogue with Hamas.

Justice Minister Tzipi Livni also appeared to rule out talks on long-term arrangements or even on a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip, saying: "Hamas can carry on waiting."

Israel could not "trust Hamas, which has broken all the proposed ceasefires, including two which Hamas itself announced," said the minister, seen as a relative moderate in Israel's security cabinet.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said late Saturday that he would act solely according to Israel's security needs.

"I don't plan on saying when we'll finish (the operation), we have no obligations apart from our security interests," he said. "We will deploy in the places convenient to us."

The security cabinet opted to leave Israel's chair empty at talks planned for Sunday in Cairo, where a Palestinian delegation arrived on Saturday night.

Delegates include the Palestinian Authority's intelligence chief Majid Faraj and six members of Hamas.

Israeli daily Hayom, seen as Netanyahu's mouthpiece, said: "The window of opportunity for a ceasefire with Hamas is now shut."

EU calls on Israel, Hamas to cease hostilities

The European Union meanwhile on Sunday urged Israel's military and the Palestinian group Hamas to "immediately stop" their hostilities over Gaza, and condemned the large loss of life in the conflict.

"The bloodshed needs to stop," said a statement signed by the EU and European Commission presidents on behalf of the bloc's 28 member states.

"We deplore the terrible loss of lives, including innocent women and children," it said, condemning the "intolerable violence" being suffered by Gaza residents under Israeli bombardment.

The EU statement also called the continued rocket fire by Hamas over Israel "an unacceptable threat" to Israeli citizens.

But it noted that "legitimate defence needs to maintain proportionality".

The EU statement said that, based on past cycles of violence, "we know that there are limits regarding what military operations can achieve".

It called for a negotiated solution that would result in two peaceful states, Israel and Palestine, living side-by-side, and said the EU was "ready to support actively negotiations".

China: lift the blockade on Gaza

The statement followed a call by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Israel and Hamas on Sunday to stop fighting and urged Tel Aviv to lift its blockade of Gaza.

"Both sides, the Israeli and the Palestinian, should immediately and comprehensively cease fire, including air strikes, ground operations and rocket fire to save the people and peace in the region," said Wang.

"All actions that involve excessive use of force and that lead to civilian casualties are unacceptable."

Wang also said Israel "should lift its blockade on Gaza, release Palestinian prisoners (but) at the same time Israel's security concerns must be considered".

China will provide $ 1.5 million in urgent humanitarian aid to war-battered Gaza, he added.

Wang said Beijing backs Cairo's ceasefire proposal and efforts undertaken by other countries to end the fighting in Gaza.

Beijing wanted both Israel and Hamas to "abort the use of force and work on reaching a solution that leads to mutual security through responsible negotiations and suitable mechanisms".

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