Saturday, July 26, 2014

West Bank Rage At Gaza Bloodshed As Protests Erupt Over UN School Attack
Palestinian youth battle Israeli police behind burning tires.
Palestinian Authority calls for 'day of rage' after women and children are killed by Israeli shelling while seeking shelter

Peter Beaumont in Gaza City and Harriet Sherwood in Jerusalem, Friday 25 July 2014 04.54 EDT

The violence of the conflict in Gaza spread to the West Bank on Thursday with at least two Palestinians killed and scores wounded in one of the biggest clashes seen for several years.

Further protests in the West Bank and East Jerusalem are expected following noon prayers on Friday, the last Friday of Ramadan, after the Palestinian Authority called for a “day of rage” over the bloodshed in Gaza.

Thousands of Palestinians took part in a demonstration after more than 15 women, children and United Nations staff were killed and around 200 injured when a UN shelter for those fleeing the Israeli bombing was hit.

The Israel Defence Forces insisted it had given the occupants of the shelter time to leave before shelling the area. But the UN flatly contradicted that, saying it had made repeated attempts to negotiate a window during which people could safely leave the area but none was granted. It said it had given the IDF precise co-ordinates of the location of the school.

Meanwhile reports emerged that the US secretary of state, John Kerry, had presented both sides with a new proposal for a cessation of violence. It centred around a week-long temporary ceasefire with Israeli troops allowed to stay in Gaza to locate and destroy tunnels; and simultaneous negotiations for a permanent deal, with guarantees by the US, EU and UN that the primary concerns of each side would be addressed.

Kerry was said to be awaiting a response from Israel and Hamas before leaving Cairo to return to Washington later on Friday. Israel's security cabinet was due to meet later on Friday to discuss the plan. It will also discuss the option of expanding its eight-day-old ground operation in Gaza.

Hamas's leader-in-exile, Khaled Mishal, said a truce must include a guaranteed end to Israel's eight-year blockade of the Gaza Strip. "We want a ceasefire as soon as possible, that's parallel with the lifting of the siege of Gaza," he told the BBC.

The school in Beit Hanoun in the north of Gaza was one of the grimmest incidents of the conflict, now in its 18th day and in which more than 800 Palestinians – mostly civilians – have been killed.

Thirty-four Israelis and one Thai worker have died.

Ban Ki-moon, secretary general of the UN, condemned the shelter attack, which came hours after the agency had warned that Israel's actions in the Palestinian enclave could constitute war crimes. "Today's attack underscores the imperative for the killing to stop and to stop now," Ban said.

Valerie Amos, the UN's top humanitarian official, described the attack on the school as “appalling”.

The school was hit while its playground was crowded with families waiting to be ferried to safety. According to survivors one shell landed in the schoolyard followed by several more rounds that hit the upper storeys of the building.

Most of the wounded were moved initially to a local hospital where terrified women and children clung to each other, waiting for news of relatives. A shell exploded about 50 metres from the hospital building as they waited.

Following the attack a trail of bloody footprints could be seen crossing the deserted playground, which was littered with abandoned possessions. There were pools of blood both inside and outside the school building; more blood was splashed over wooden school desks.

Nour Hamid, 17, said: "We were packing up to leave when the attack happened. We were standing outside when they started hitting us, some of the women holding their babies. My sister-in-law was one of the injured. There were bodies everywhere, most of them women and children."

Laila al-Shinbari told Reuters: "All of us sat in one place when suddenly four shells landed on our heads … Bodies were on the ground, [there was] blood and screams. My son is dead and all my relatives are wounded including my other kids."

Ayman Hamdan, medical director at Beit Hanoun hospital, told the Guardian that medical staff were treating multiple shrapnel injuries and damage to internal organs. "Some of the bodies were blown apart. Such a massacre requires more than one hospital to deal with it," she said.

More than 140,000 Palestinians have sought shelter in UN premises during the conflict. Several schools run by UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, have come under fire in the last week. On Tuesday a school in Maghazi, central Gaza, sheltering about 1,000 people, was hit by Israeli shells as an UNRWA team inspected damage caused by an earlier strike.

Thursday's strike occurred during a day of heavy fighting across the territory as Israel pressed ahead with its operation to halt rocket fire from Gaza and destroy a sophisticated network of cross-border tunnels.

The Israeli military, which said it was "reviewing the incident", claimed the incident had occurred during "heavy combat" in the area and accused "terrorists" of "using civilian infrastructure and international symbols as human shields".

Protests take place in the West Bank against Israel's onslaught in Gaza.

In the West Bank clashes between the IDF and up to 10,000 people demonstrating against the Gaza offensive erupted in the volatile area around the massive Qalandiya checkpoint between Jerusalem and the West Bank city of Ramallah.

The IDF said it used "riot dispersal means" – a term used to cover weapons such as rubber bullets and tear gas – against protesters, who threw rocks and molotov cocktails at them and blocked a road with burning tyres. It did not say whether live rounds had been used.

According to Israel Radio the protest appeared to be the largest since the Palestinian second intifada, or uprising, which ended in 2005.

Two other Palestinians have been killed in confrontations in the West Bank this week. On Thursday night police also clashed with Palestinian protesters around Jerusalem's Old City.

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