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UN condemns attack on Gaza facility used to shelter civilians

UNITED NATIONS -- UN officials in New York strongly condemned the attack in Gaza on Wednesday on one of their installations, a school that was used as a shelter for people fleeing from Israel's escalating military campaign in the occupied territory.

"We have received with shock and dismay the news of the bombing this morning of a UN-designated shelter in a school, killing at least 16 civilians, including several children, and injuring more than 100 people," said Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson at a news conference.

Eliasson said the bombing took place although the UN had provided the coordinates of the school to Israel Defense Forces.

"They were there under UN protection, under our protection," he said. "And after warnings from the IDF, who had numerous times been informed about the presence of over 3,000 civilians at this location. The exact location was communicated to the IDF as late as 8:50 p.m. last night. . . . All indicators are that it was Israeli artillery that hit the school."

Eliasson said that an Israeli spokesman said mortars had been coming from the vicinity of the school and that the soldiers fired back in response.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon issued a statement as he arrived in Costa Rica on an official visit.

"Nothing is more shameful than attacking sleeping children," he said from San Jose. "I condemn this attack in the strongest possible terms. It is outrageous. It is unjustifiable. And it demands accountability and justice."

The strike on the Jabalia Elementary Girls School was one of several attacks on UN-run shelters where Gazans had gathered to flee the violence. Israel has said it launched the initiative in Gaza to rid the area of tunnels used by Hamas, a militant group, and to stop the firing of rockets into Israel.

The latest school attack comes several days after another school in Beit Hanoun was struck, leaving 16 people dead and hundreds hurt.

Both facilities were run by the UN Relief and Works Agency.

"They are being told to flee areas, get out of areas, but to where?" asked John Ging, director of operations for the UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, who appeared with Eliasson. "Where should they flee? In the end, we don't have the answer for them."

Ging stressed that Gazans are hemmed in on all sides while, in most other conflicts, such as Syria, people have the option of crossing borders and seeking refuge in other countries.

Ging said Gazans are gripped by "mortal fear" and that more than 1,200 of them have been killed, with as many as 249 of them children.

In an alarming statistic, he said, a child is killed in Gaza every hour.

Ging said 5,750 houses and 23 medical facilities have been destroyed, 133 schools hit by shelling and 204,000 people crowded into UNRWA installations, which are not built to accommodate such high numbers of people.

Eliasson reiterated the pleas by many UN officials to both combatants to cease hostilities.

"Put the human being at the center," he said. "There is a moment when you have to say enough is enough."


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