IDF says it struck UNRWA school in Gaza used by Hamas as command center

Army says ‘great efforts’ taken to protect civilians at the scene; Hamas says strike killed 16; sirens in south as rockets fired

People gather to search the rubble of a collapsed building in the aftermath of an Israeli strike on what the IDF says were Hamas operatives hiding in the Al-Jaouni UNRWA school in central Gaza's Nuseirat refugee camp, July 6, 2024. (Eyad Baba / AFP)
People gather to search the rubble of a collapsed building in the aftermath of an Israeli strike on what the IDF says were Hamas operatives hiding in the Al-Jaouni UNRWA school in central Gaza's Nuseirat refugee camp, July 6, 2024. (Eyad Baba / AFP)

The Israel Defense Force on Saturday confirmed carrying out an airstrike at a United Nations-run school in the central Gaza Strip, saying the facility was used by Hamas operatives as a command center.

The school was sheltering many people displaced by the war. Before carrying out the strike against UNRWA’s al-Jaouni school in the Nuseirat refugee camp, the IDF said it took “many steps” to mitigate harm to civilians, including using aerial surveillance and other intelligence. Hamas health authorities said 16 people were killed in the strike and some 50 were wounded.

At the scene, Ayman al-Atouneh said he saw children among the dead. “We came here running to see the targeted area, we saw bodies of children, in pieces, this is a playground, there was a trampoline here, there were swing-sets, and vendors,” he told Reuters.

Hamas’s press office claimed most of the casualties were “children, women, and elderly.”

The strike came amid rocket fire from Gaza into southern Israel, as the military took out rocket launchers and other terrorist infrastructure across the Strip, killing several Hamas operatives in airstrikes and ground fighting.

Sirens sounded in Sderot, Ibim, Nir Am and Nahal Oz, southern communities near the Gaza Strip. According to the IDF, a rocket fired at Nahal Oz and two fired at Sderot all struck open areas and there were no reports of injuries.

The rocket attacks came after the IDF announced troops had killed a number of gunmen and destroyed several Hamas tunnels over the weekend. Gaza’s Hamas-run health ministry, which does not distinguish between civilian and combatant deaths, said at least 87 people had been killed by Israel in the past 48 hours, alleging these included aid workers and journalists.

Israel was also said to hit a house housing displaced Palestinians in Nuseirat.

The IDF on Saturday confirmed striking a Hamas rocket launcher in central Gaza’s Deir al-Balah the day before, adjacent to a shelter for displaced Palestinian civilians, while taking precautions to avoid hitting civilians.

The armed wings of Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad said their operatives had fired anti-tank rockets and mortar bombs at Israeli forces in several locations.

The conflict raged amid cautious optimism that Israel and Hamas were approaching a truce. The terror group said on Saturday that it had dropped a demand — long rejected by Jerusalem — that Israel commit to a permanent ceasefire before the two parties commence a deal, mediated by Qatar, Egypt and the United States, that would see a pause in the fighting and the release of hostages held in Gaza.

At the same time, Hamas indicated it was seeking guarantees from mediators that the war would not be renewed.

Negotiations have failed to secure a truce and release of captives since a weeklong ceasefire in November that saw 105 hostages freed in return for 240 Palestinian prisoners.

Former French-Israeli hostage, 12-year-old Eitan Yahalomi (C), who had been held by Hamas in Gaza, is reunited with his mother after the Palestinian terror group released him as part of a weeklong truce and prisoner swap deal, in Tel Aviv early on November 28, 2023. (IDF/AFP)

Fighting continues across the Strip

In the Strip’s north, troops with the 98th Division battled several cells of gunmen over the past day in Gaza City’s Shejaiya camp. The army said soldiers also located and demolished tunnel shafts and booby traps.

Troops with the 7th Armored Brigade located long-range rockets during operations in Shejaiya, the army said. According to the IDF, the finding “indicates renewed attempts by the enemy to establish itself in the area.”

In one incident in Shejaiya, the military said soldiers from the Paratroopers Brigade spotted a Hamas cell attempting to ambush them. An exchange of fire saw all of the operatives killed and no troops wounded, according to the IDF.

In another incident in Gaza City, the army said it carried out an airstrike against a three-man cell armed with rocket-propelled grenade (RPGs).

Shejaiya is among the areas the military had previously declared to be cleared of Hamas, but where fighting is again taking place. Ground fighting has raged in the neighborhood for the past two weeks, forcing tens of thousands of people to flee their homes. Many have sheltered in the Yarmouk Sports Stadium, one of the Strip’s largest soccer arenas.

Rockets found by the IDF in Gaza City’s Shejaiya, in a handout image published July 6, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

In central Gaza’s Deir al-Balah, the IDF said it carried out an airstrike on a Hamas rocket launcher positioned within the Israeli-designated humanitarian zone.

According to the IDF, the rocket launcher was adjacent to a shelter for displaced Palestinian civilians. Before the drone strike, the military said it carried out “significant efforts” to mitigate harm to civilians, including warning civilians in the area ahead of time.

The Associated Press reported that prayers were held in Deir al-Balah for 12 Palestinians, including five children and two women, killed in three separate strikes in central Gaza on Friday and Saturday, according to hospital officials. The bodies were taken to al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital, where AP journalists counted them.

Elsewhere in central Gaza, in the Nuseirat refugee camp, an Israeli airstrike on a house killed 10 Palestinians, medics said.

Two of those killed on Friday in a strike that hit the Deir al-Balah-area were employees of UNRWA, the agency’s director of communications told the AP.  Juliette Touma of the UNRWA said a total of 194 workers with the agency had been killed since October.

Earlier this week, an Israeli evacuation order in the southern city of Khan Younis and the surrounding areas affected about 250,000 Palestinians. Many headed to Deir al-Balah and to the Israeli-declared safe zone centered on the Mawasi coastal area.

Displaced Palestinians in shelter tents in Deir al-Balah, central Gaza Strip, June 19, 2024. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

In southern Gaza’s Rafah, troops with the 162nd Division continued to battle gunmen, destroy Hamas targets — including tunnels — and locate weapons over the past day, the IDF said.

The Hamas-run Interior Ministry said four police officers were killed in an Israeli airstrike in Rafah. The ministry, which oversees civilian police, said the officers were killed during a foot patrol securing properties. It said eight other police officers were wounded. The IDF did not immediately respond to questions.

A statement issued by the Hamas-run interior ministry said the slain policemen included Fares Abdel-Al, the head of the police force in the western Rafah neighborhood of Tel Al-Sultan.

Israel has said its operations in Rafah are necessary to eradicate the last battalions of Hamas’s armed wing. Israel’s allies, including the US, long warned against maneuvering in the densely populated area, where over a million Palestinians flocked in the war’s early days after being displaced from Gaza’s north and center. On Israel’s orders, the majority of Rafah’s residents have since evacuated to the Mawasi “safe zone.”

IDF troops stand at the entrance to a Palestinian Islamic Jihad underground rocket manufacturing site in southern Gaza’s Rafah, in a handout image published July 1, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

Among those killed in separate airstrikes over the weekend were five local journalists, raising the death toll of journalists since October 7 to 158, according to the Hamas-led Gaza government media office.

The war in Gaza was sparked on October 7, when thousands of Hamas-led terrorists stormed southern Israel to kill nearly 1,200 people and take 251 hostages.

Gaza’s Hamas-run health ministry says more than 38,000 people in the Strip have been killed or are presumed dead in the fighting so far. The toll, which cannot be verified, does not distinguish between civilians and fighters. Israel says it has killed some 15,000 combatants in battle and some 1,000 terrorists inside Israel during the October 7 attack.

Israel’s death toll in the ground offensive against Hamas in Gaza and in military operations along the border with the Strip stands at 325.

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