Israeli air raids have killed many Palestinians at Al Fakhoura school, run by the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA), in the Jabalia refugee camp and another school in Tall az-Zaatar, also in northern Gaza.
At least 50 people were killed in the attack on Al Fakhoura school, the Palestinian Ministry of Health said on Saturday. It said the two attacks killed and injured hundreds of people.
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Israeli attacks on schools, hospitals and public facilities “seem to be a trend right now”, said Al Jazeera’s Hani Mahmoud, reporting from Khan Younis in southern Gaza. Multiple air raids inflicted severe destruction on both schools, he added.
“Almost 200 people have been killed in these attacks and the number is expected to increase as there are many under the rubble. People are using shovels and their bare hands to dig people out,” he explained.
Several hundred people were believed to have taken shelter at both schools, fleeing the non-stop Israeli attacks. The attack on Al Fakhoura is believed to have taken place in the early hours of the morning, while the attack on Tal al-Zaatar took place later in the day.
“Dead bodies are everywhere and medical teams are trying to evacuate the wounded,” said Al Jazeera’s Tareq Abou Azzoum, reporting about Al Fakhoura school.
He said with the continuing fighting amid Israel’s ground offensive in northern Gaza, many Palestinians have been forced to flee to United Nations-run schools in the vicinity of the Indonesian Hospital for protection.
“People taking shelter at Al Fakhoura school in Jabalia refugee camp, many with medical issues, thought they could find shelter from the violence there. But the Israeli army seems to be sending a message: Flee to the south of the Gaza Strip,” he said.
Witnesses described the massive destruction at the Al Fakhoura school.
“The scenes were horrifying. Corpses of women and children were on the ground. Others were screaming for help,” wounded survivor Ahmed Radwan told The Associated Press news agency by phone. Photos from a local hospital showed more than 20 bodies wrapped in bloodstained sheets.
The Israeli military, which warned Jabalia residents and others in a social media post in Arabic to leave, said only its troops are active in the area “with the aim of hitting terrorists”.
Israel rarely comments on individual attacks saying only it targets Hamas.
‘Nowhere is safe in Gaza’
Qatar’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs condemned Israel’s renewed bombardment of Al Fakhoura school, and called for “an urgent international investigation and independent investigators to probe Israel’s targeting of schools and hospitals in Gaza”.
UN relief chief Martin Griffiths said, “Shelters are a place for safety. Schools are a place for learning. Tragic news of the children, women and men killed while sheltering at [Al Fakhoura] school in northern Gaza. Civilians cannot and should not have to bear this any longer.”
Shelters are a place for safety.
Schools are a place for learning.
Tragic news of the children, women and men killed while sheltering at Al Fakhouri school in northern Gaza.
Civilians cannot and should not have to bear this any longer.
Humanity needs to prevail.
— Martin Griffiths (@UNReliefChief) November 18, 2023
Tamara Alrifai, a spokesperson for UNRWA, told Al Jazeera that she had seen the “devastating” footage coming out of Jabalia in the aftermath of the bombing, but was unable to establish direct contact with her colleagues on the ground.
“I’m still waiting from reports directly from my colleagues in Gaza but what we’re seeing is another one of these horrific incidents, where civilians, people who sought shelter in a protected UN building, are paying the price,” she said.
Alrifai said more than half of the Gaza Strip’s 2.3 million population has been forced into an “exodus” south after an Israeli order to evacuate to make room for its ground operations in the north, something that is reminiscent of previous forced displacements.
“Many people who stayed in the north stayed in the UNRWA school because they thought that they would have a bit of safety there, but nowhere is safe in Gaza, not even our schools,” she said. “Unfortunately, people flee into our buildings with the blue flag looking for protection, but 70 of our buildings have been hit, so we, ourselves, are not protected.”
Alrifai said excluding the attack on Saturday, 66 people have been confirmed killed while taking shelter in UN-run facilities.
The ‘al-Shifa of schools’
The Jabalia refugee camp has been a target of air raids for weeks, as Israel claims it houses Palestinian fighters.
The deadly bombing campaign has been continuing despite condemnations by the UN and regional governments.
The Israeli army has also repeatedly hit schools and UN-run facilities. Its war on Gaza has killed more than 12,000 Palestinians so far, including 5,000 children.
The Al Fakhoura school had been previously attacked by the Israeli army several times before the war. It was a target for air raids in 2009, 2014 and earlier this month.
Al Jazeera’s senior political analyst Marwan Bishara said the school is like the “al-Shifa of schools” in Gaza as it has been repeatedly hit by Israeli forces like the al-Shifa Hospital, Gaza’s largest hospital, which has been a main target since the start of the war and under direct siege and raid for days.
“There is nothing discriminate about the fact that a school that shelters thousands of people has been bombed from the air; that is meant to create damage, human loss, suffering and death,” he said.
“When you attack a school with such a concentration of people taking refuge in the school, you are sending a message that is more than ‘I’m going after Hamas fighters here and there.’ What it’s saying is, ‘I want people to be driven out, I want people to pay a price, I want people to die.’”