GAZA CITY - Fifteen people were killed Thursday when Israeli fire hit a UN-run school in Gaza, as the Palestinian toll on the 17th day of the conflict rose to 788, medics said.
Emergency services spokesman Ashraf al-Qudra said at least 15 people had been killed and 200 wounded by Israeli shelling of a school run by the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) in the northern town of Beit Hanun, where hundreds had sought refuge from the violence.
He gave no immediate details of those killed, but an AFP correspondent reported that a mother and her one-year-old infant were among the dead brought into a nearby mortary.
A later air strike between the southern cities of Rafah and Khan Yunis killed seven people, the "majority of them children" from three different families, Qudra said.
He gave the names and ages of three of the children - Mahmud Abedin, 12, Nabeel al-Astal, 12, and Ashraf al-Najjar, 13 - but no further details.
The deaths raised Thursday's toll in Gaza to 93, according to Qudra's figures, with 788 killed in total and more than 5,000 wounded. Those numbers do not include more than a dozen Palestinian militants killed after infiltrating southern Israel since the conflict began on July 8.
Among those killed on Thursday were seven who died in air strikes and tank fire in and around Khuzaa near Khan Yunis in southern Gaza.
Five people from the Abu Daqqa family were killed along with two from the Najjar family, Qudra told AFP.
Areas east of Khan Yunis near the Israeli border have come under heavy bombardment in recent days, with emergency services trying to coordinate with the Red Cross to gain access to evacuate civilians.
"We have been receiving dozens of appeals from residents of Khuzaa, Abasan and Bani Suheila in Khan Yunis asking us to evacuate them, and saying there were a lot of people killed and injured underneath the rubble of their houses," Qudra said. So far, 32 Israeli soldiers have been killed since the beginning of the conflict, along with two Israeli civilians and one Thai farm worker. The army's losses are its heaviest since a 2006 war with Lebanese militant group Hezbollah.
UN staff killed in attack on school: Ban
An attack on a UN-run school in Gaza on Thursday has claimed lives among the UN staff, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said. "Many have been killed - including women and children, as well as UN staff," Ban said in a statement.
Ban said he was "appalled" by the news and "strongly condemned" the attack on the school in Beit Hanun, in the northern Gaza Strip.
"Today's attack underscores the imperative for the killing to stop - and to stop now," he said in the statement released in Iraq, his latest stop on a tour to try to secure a ceasefire in Gaza.
UN spokesman Farhan Haq separately said officials were trying to determine the number of casualties among UN staff and stressed that it had not been established who had attacked the school.
The Israeli army said it would investigate the circumstances surrounding the school attack.
KERRY REACHES OUT TO HAMAS
ALLIES TO PRESS TRUCE
US Secretary of State John Kerry spoke to his counterparts in Qatar and Turkey, which support the Palestinian group Hamas, as he pressed for a Gaza ceasefire.
A day after he flew to Israel and cited signs of progress, Kerry was hunkered down in Egypt - which drafted a truce proposal to end the Israel-Hamas conflict - as he reached out to regional officials by telephone, aides said.
The top US diplomat spoke to the foreign ministers of Qatar and Turkey in the hope that the two countries would use their influence to encourage Hamas to accept a ceasefire plan, which the Islamist group has so far rejected, a US official said.
Kerry also spoke again with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, after meeting him for two hours late Wednesday in Tel Aviv. Unlike previous days, Kerry did not make any public appearances as new violence raged in the Gaza Strip, where at least nine people including a baby were killed when an Israeli shell slammed into a UN-run school.
Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal is based in Qatar, while Turkey's Islamist-oriented Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has harshly criticised Israel's assault on Hamas-ruled Gaza as well as Egypt's role in trying to clinch a ceasefire.
Hamas has rejected the ceasefire proposal by Egypt's military-backed government, insisting that Israel end its eight-year siege on the impoverished Gaza Strip.
But a senior Hamas official acknowledged on Wednesday that it was unrealistic to expect the blockade to end in tandem with a ceasefire, and instead called for a firm agreement on principles on how to lift the siege.
Israel, which initially accepted a truce, has said it will keep up its military campaign as it eliminates tunnels that infiltrate the Jewish state from Gaza.
Kerry also spoke by telephone to Foreign Minister Boerge Brende of Norway, which is the chair of the so-called Ad Hoc Liaison Committee which coordinates development aid to the Palestinians.
Norway is working to arrange a new aid conference for September in Oslo, although no final decision has been made, foreign ministry spokesman Frode Andersen said.
The conference follows requests by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas, he said.
After a previous Israeli military campaign in Gaza in 2009, donors met in the Egyptian resort of Sharm El-Sheikh and promised more than $4.4 billion to rebuild the impoverished territory over two years.
But much of the aid was held up, as donor countries refuse to channel money through Hamas while Israel blocks shipments of goods it says could be used in attacks.