Tuesday, 6 January 2009

Israeli airstrikes hit schools in Gaza City

Updated Tuesday, January 6th 2009, 9:30 PM

BY MATTHEW KALMAN in Jerusalem and HELEN KENNEDY in New York

Israeli tanks on a United Nations-run school in Gaza where Palestinian refugees were taking cover on Tuesday, killing at least 42 civilians and adding urgency to a new U.S.-backed effort to end the war.

It was one of four Israeli attacks on UN facilities and the deadliest single attack of the 12-day-old offensive.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown called it "the darkest moment yet for the Middle East."

The Israeli Army said the strike on the Fakhoura School in the Jabalya refugee camp was justified because Hamas terrorists were firing rockets from inside the school.

Israel is considering "submitting an official complaint" to the UN against Hamas for using the school as cover, said David Saranga of the Israeli Consulate in New York.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called attacking a UN-sponsored place of refuge "totally unacceptable." He said it was "equally unacceptable" for militants to endanger civilians.

John Ging, an Irishman who is the top UN official in Gaza, said 350 people had taken shelter in the school, which was clearly marked with a UN flag. He said its coordinates were given to the Israeli Army to avoid just such a tragedy.

"There's nowhere safe in Gaza. Everyone here is terrorized and traumatized," Ging said.

Shrapnel ripped into the crowd and demolished the building.

More than 630 Palestinians have been killed in the current conflict, nearly a third of them children, Gaza health officials said.

Five Israeli soldiers were killed Tuesday, bringing the Israeli toll to 10.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak emerged from talks with French President Nicolas Sarkozy with a truce proposal that received a quick thumbs up from Ban, Secretary of State Rice and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Mubarak proposed an immediate halt to Israeli attacks and Hamas rocket fire, to be followed by talks on long-term border arrangements.

Hamas has said it would consider a ceasefire if Israel lifts the blockade strangling the Gaza Strip, but Israel says it cannot allow smuggled weapons to keep flowing into the territory.

Israel announced it would allow a temporary "humanitarian corridor" into the Gaza Strip to distribute badly needed food and medicine.

As ferocious fighting was reported across the Gaza Strip, Al Qaeda No. 2 Ayman al-Zawahiri emerged from hiding to score some propaganda points off the dead.

He told Gazans to blame President-elect Barack Obama for their pain. "These air strikes are a gift from Obama before he takes office," Zawahiri said in a Web video.

Obama, who has been silent on Gaza because he says America has only one President at a time, promised that "after Jan. 20, I am going to have plenty to say about the issue."

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