Devastation in Gaza: Israeli airstrike on school refugee camp kills dozens

Israeli forces kill dozens, including women and children, in airstrike on Gaza school, raising questions about international humanitarian law and accountability.

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Image Credit: REUTERS/Anas Al-Shareef/ File Photo

Israeli forces killed dozens of people on Tuesday in an airstrike on a school-turned-refugee camp in the southern Gaza Strip, marking the fourth school Israel’s military has bombed in as many days. The attack is part of a massive assault on the enclave’s starving population, which began following a Hamas-led attack in October.

At least 29 people were killed and dozens more wounded in Tuesday’s attack, including women and children—who have made up roughly two-thirds of those killed in Israel’s latest assault on Gaza. The death toll from Tuesday’s attack is expected to rise, as many of those injured were reportedly in critical condition and taken to the under-resourced and overwhelmed Nasser Hospital.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) acknowledged carrying out the airstrike—which hit the entrance of the school—but claimed to be targeting a Hamas militant “adjacent” to the complex. The IDF, whose internal investigations rarely result in accountability for atrocities, stated that the “incident is under review.”

Video footage posted to social media shows displaced Palestinians playing in the schoolyard when the airstrike hit, sparking panic and chaos. Witnesses reported that the area was teeming with displaced people at the time of the attack, resulting in widespread destruction and the deaths of women and children. Body parts were scattered across the site, and many people staying in tents outside the school were also injured.

Ayman Al-Dahma, 21, described the number of casualties as “unimaginable,” stating he had seen people whose limbs had been severed by the blast. He mentioned that as many as 3,000 people were packed into the area at the time, which housed a market and residential buildings.

Tuesday’s attack marked the fourth time in four days that the IDF has attacked a school in the Gaza Strip. Over the weekend, Israeli forces killed more than a dozen Palestinians in an attack on a United Nations-run school in central Gaza. Most of Gaza’s education infrastructure has been damaged or completely destroyed by Israeli forces, and the schools still standing are being used to shelter those displaced by the IDF assault, now in its 10th month. The United Nations estimates that 90% of Gaza’s population has been internally displaced since October, with some displaced up to 10 times.

Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East called the IDF’s latest attack “a horrific massacre,” adding, “Annihilation is the point.” The group criticized Canada’s failure to act, noting that Canada is one of several major countries supplying weaponry to the Israeli government.

The United States and Germany together provided 99% of the arms Israel imported last year, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. Germany’s Foreign Office called the attack “unacceptable” and demanded a swift investigation, emphasizing that civilians, especially children, must not get caught in the crossfire. The office urged that the repeated attacks on schools by the Israeli army must stop.

Philippe Lazzarini, commissioner-general of the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), stated that “schools have gone from safe places of education and hope for children to overcrowded shelters and often ending up a place of death and misery.” He highlighted the relentless killings, destruction, and despair continuing in Gaza, calling for an immediate ceasefire to preserve what is left of common humanity.

The attack on the school in the town of Abbasan, east of Khan Younis, killed at least 30 people and wounded 53, most of them women and children, according to Palestinian medics. Exclusive footage obtained by Al Jazeera showed young Palestinians playing football in the schoolyard as dozens of people watched, followed by a loud explosion that sent people running for cover.

A Palestinian boy told Al Jazeera that he lost several relatives in the attack. “We were sitting, and a missile fell and destroyed everything,” he said, sobbing. “I lost my uncle, my cousins, and my relatives.”

Elsewhere in Gaza, Israeli forces bombed the central Bureij camp, killing at least 17 people, 14 of whom were children. Israeli forces also raided a house in central Deir el-Balah, killing three more people. Hamas described the attack on the al-Awda school as an “extension of the war of extermination against our people by the Zionist terrorist government.”

Josep Borrell, the European Union’s top diplomat, condemned the attack, stressing the imperative to immediately reach a ceasefire to bring respite to hundreds of stranded civilians and deliver the needed humanitarian aid.

The renewed efforts for a ceasefire come as CIA director William Burns and Israel’s Mossad chief David Barnea prepare to travel to Qatar after Burns held talks with Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi in Cairo. Hamas made concessions last week, dropping a key demand that Israel commit upfront to an end to the war before signing a ceasefire agreement.

In northern Gaza City, residents reported Israeli tanks pushing into neighborhoods, shelling roads and buildings, and forcing them to flee their homes. The Palestinian Red Crescent said its crews received dozens of humanitarian distress calls but were unable to help due to the intensity of the bombing.

At least 38,243 people have been killed and 88,243 wounded in Israel’s war on Gaza since October. The death toll in Israel from the Hamas-led attacks on October 7 is estimated at 1,139, with dozens of people still held captive in Gaza.

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Jordan Atwood is a dynamic War and Politics Reporter known for his incisive analysis and comprehensive coverage of international conflicts and political landscapes. His work is driven by a commitment to uncovering the truth and providing a clear, informed understanding of complex geopolitical events. Jordan's reporting not only captures the realities of war but also delves into the political strategies and implications behind them, making his work essential for those seeking a deeper understanding of world affairs.

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