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Updated: Sun, 03 Aug 2014 15:30:06 GMT | By The Associated Press, cbc.ca

Gaza: Strike near UN school a 'criminal act,' says Ban Ki-moon



A relative carries a dead baby during the funeral of members of Al Ghoul family in the Rafah refugee camp, in the southern Gaza Strip, Sunday, Aug. 3, 2014. At least 40 people were inside the Al Ghoul family building in Rafah when it was targeted by Israeli jet fighters, according to the Red Crescent and Gaza health official Ashraf al-Kidra. Many have been confirmed dead and over two dozen have been wounded. (© AP Photo/Hatem Ali)

A relative carries a dead baby during the funeral of members of Al Ghoul family in the Rafah refugee camp, in the southern Gaza Strip, Sunday, Aug. 3, 2014. At least 40 people were inside the Al Ghoul family building in Rafah when it was targeted by Israeli jet fighters, according to the Red Crescent and Gaza health official Ashraf al-Kidra. Many have been confirmed dead and over two dozen have been wounded. (AP Photo/Hatem Ali) Hatem Ali/Associated Press

A United Nations school sheltering displaced people in the southern Gaza Strip was hit Sunday by what a UN official said appeared to be an Israeli airstrike, an attack that killed 10 people as Israel signaled a possible scaling back in the ongoing war.​

- LIVE BLOG | Follow the story here

- ANALYSIS | Israeli attitudes on Gaza seem firmly behind Netanyahu

"This attack, along with other breaches of international law, must be swiftly investigated and those responsible held accountable," the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said. "It is a moral outrage and a criminal act."

The U.S. State Department also chimed in saying it was "appalled" by the "disgraceful shelling."

Late Sunday, Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, an Israeli military spokesman, confirmed the bulk of ground troops had been pulled out of Gaza after the military concluded it had destroyed most of the tunnel network.

He said Israel had detected some 30 tunnels that were dug along the border for what he called a "synchronized attack" on Israel.

"We've caused substantial damage to this network to an extent where we've basically taken this huge threat and made it minimal," he said. The army had thousands of troops in Gaza at the height of the operation.

In southern Israel, armored vehicles could be seen rolling slowly onto the back of large flatbed trucks near the Gaza border, while soldiers folded flags from atop a tank and rolled up their belongings and sleeping bags.

Lerner said, however, that the operation was not over and that Israel would continue to target Hamas' rocket-firing capabilities and its ability to infiltrate Israel

Chris Gunness, spokesperson for the United Nations Relief Works Agency in Rafah, told CBC News on Sunday that 3,000 "displaced people" were registered in the area at the time.

"The sense of insecurity is profound and visceral because they know as they wait in their UN shelters, in these UN classrooms, that they may take direct hits because that's what has happened in previous occasions," he said, adding the incident has further "traumatized" the population of Gaza, more than half of whom are children.

"There's nowhere safe in Gaza. And that's the tragedy," he said.

In Gaza, meanwhile, Israeli airstrikes and tank shelling continued. Gaza health official Ashraf al-Kidra said at least 10 people were killed and 35 wounded after the strike near the boys' school in Rafah. Robert Turner, the director of operations for the UN Palestinian refugee agency in Gaza, said preliminary findings indicated the blast was an Israeli airstrike near the school, which had been providing shelter for some 3,000 people. He said the strike killed at least one UN staffer.

"The locations of all these installations have been passed to the Israeli military multiple times," Turner said. "They know where these shelters are. How this continues to happen, I have no idea. I have no words for it. I don't understand it."

Inside the UN school's compound, several bodies, among them children, were strewn across the ground in puddles of blood.

"Our trust and our fate is only in the hands of God!" one woman cried.

The Israeli military said they were investigating the strike. In a statement, Ban said the strike was "yet another gross violation of international humanitarian law."

At least six UN facilities, including schools sheltering the displaced, have been struck by Israeli fire since the conflict began, drawing international condemnation. In each earlier case, Israel has said it was responding to militants launching rockets or other attacks from nearby.

Aerial shelling continues

CBC Middle East correspondent Sasa Petricic said the school was in a particular area that has housed "some of the most intense shelling there has been" in the southern Rafah area.

Petricic said the reports of the deaths at the school come amid a "shift in operations" and an apparent withdrawal of some Israeli ground troops out of Gaza itself. He said troops were pulling back the border area between Israel and Gaza due to the successful destruction of tunnel that Israel says are used by Hamas militants to launch attacks against Israel.

In nearly four weeks of fighting, Palestinian health officials say more than 1,750 Palestinians, mainly civilians, have been killed. Nearly 70 Israelis, almost all soldiers, have been killed.

Israel launched an aerial campaign in Gaza on July 8 to try to halt Palestinian rocket fire on major cities, and later sent in troops to dismantle Hamas' cross-border tunnels that have been used to carry out attacks.

Artillery shells slammed into two high-rise office buildings Sunday in downtown Gaza City and large explosions could be heard seconds apart, police and witnesses said. Al-Kidra said more than 50 Palestinians were killed Sunday, including 10 members of one family in a single strike in the southern Gaza Strip. Israel said it carried out 180 strikes Sunday.

The UN released a statement on Sunday warning of a "health disaster of widespread proportions is rapidly unfolding in the Gaza Strip as a direct result of the ongoing conflict"

“We are now looking at a health and humanitarian disaster," said James Rawley,the Humanitarian Coordinator in the Palestinian territory. adding, "the fighting must stop immediately."

"After more than three weeks of intense conflict, Gaza’s medical services and facilities are on the verge of collapse. One third of hospitals, 14 primary healthcare clinics and 29 Palestinian Red Crescent and Ministry of Health ambulances have been damaged in the fighting."

He said at least 40 per cent of healthcare workers are unable to reach their places of work.

250,000 flee homes

Hamas has said it will not stop fighting until Israel and Egypt lift their blockade of Gaza, imposed after the Islamic militant group overran the territory in 2007. Large swaths of Gaza have been destroyed and some 250,000 people have been forced to flee their homes since the war began.

In a televised address late Saturday, Netanyahu warned Hamas they would pay an "intolerable price" if militants continued to fire rockets at Israel and that all options remain on the table.

From an Israeli perspective, the advantage of a unilateral pullout or troop redeployment to the strip's fringes is that it can do so on its own terms, rather than becoming entangled in negotiations with Hamas. However, a unilateral pullback does not address the underlying causes of cross-border tensions and carries the risk of a new flare-up of violence in the future.

Rocket fire continued toward Israel Sunday. More than 3,000 rockets have been fired since the war began, which have killed three civilians and damaged several homes. Several soldiers have been killed in the current round of fighting by Palestinian gunmen who popped out of tunnels near Israeli communities along the Gaza border.

The Israeli military death toll rose to 64 after Israel announced that Hadar Goldin, a 23-year-old infantry lieutenant feared captured in Gaza, was actually killed in battle. His funeral is later Sunday.

Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon revealed on his Facebook page Sunday that he is a distant relative of Goldin and had known him his whole life. The information was previously kept under wraps while Goldin was feared to be abducted.

Israel had earlier said it feared Goldin had been captured by Hamas militants Friday near Rafah in an ambush that shattered an internationally brokered cease-fire and was followed by heavy Israeli shelling that left dozens of Palestinians dead.

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