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‘Everyone is in pieces’: Witnesses to Israeli strike on Gaza shelter say there’s nowhere safe to go

Mahmoud Nijim was jolted awake by the sounds of bombs falling nearby early Thursday, as the Israeli military attacked the site of a UN-run school in central Gaza that was serving as a shelter for displaced Palestinians.

Israel’s military says it targeted militants located at the school, dismisses claims civilians killed

'It's a crime against humanity': Palestinian describes Gaza school bombed in the night

11 hours ago

Duration 1:22

At a school in Deir Al-Balah where displaced Gazans have been sheltering, bombs struck during the night, killing at least 35 and injuring many more, according to the UN Palestinian refugee agency (UNRWA). 'Blood is everywhere on the rubble,' said Mahmoud Nijim, who says he ran to the school after being woken up by the sound of the bombing.

WARNING: This story contains details about people being killed or hurt in an airstrike in Gaza and graphic images showing blood and injuries.

Mahmoud Nijim was jolted awake by the sounds of bombs falling nearby early Thursday, as the Israeli military attacked the site of a UN-run school in central Gaza that was serving as a shelter for displaced Palestinians.

"We came running to the school and we found children martyred," Nijim, who lives nearby, told CBC News freelance journalist Mohamed El Saife. "All of the martyrs were women and children."

"Everyone is in pieces," he said. "Blood is everywhere on the rubble."

He said this was yet another place where people sought safety after fleeing the Israeli strikes that have levelled much of Gaza, only to face more destruction.

"People don't know where to go," he said. "There isn't a single safe place in Gaza."

The UN Palestinian refugee agency (UNRWA) ran the school in the Nuseirat refugee camp, which was sheltering 6,000 displaced people at the time of the strikes, UNRWA chief Philippe Lazzarini said.

A man stands inside a building that is heavily damaged from an explosion.

Israel carried out what it described as a targeted airstrike on Hamas fighters who had sheltered inside the site, with a top official saying at least 35 people had been killed. Health officials in Gaza said Israel's strike killed at least 40 people.

Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) spokesperson Lt.-Col. Peter Lerner said the military is "very confident in the intelligence" that the site was being used as an operational base for militants.

He said 20 to 30 fighters were located in the compound, and many of them had been killed, but had no precise details as intelligence assessments were being carried out.

"I'm not aware of any civilian casualties and I'd be very, very cautious of accepting anything that Hamas puts out," he said, referring to the Palestinian militant group that runs Gaza and led the deadly militant attacks on Oct. 7 that precipitated the devastating conflict.

UNRWA's Lazzarini said the accusation that armed groups may have been based at the site "are shocking" and against International Humanitarian Law. In a post on social media platform X, he said that the agency is "unable to verify" the Israeli claims and condemned the attack on a facility sheltering so many people.

Hospital struggles to treat injured

The early morning explosion ripped through parts of the school building, tearing holes through the walls and ceilings and showering concrete chunks on the rooms where people slept.

Footage captured by El Saife showed foam mattresses that appear still wet with blood piled up among the rubble and scattered belongings.

Sitting outside the complex Thursday, Umm Alaa Abu Daher said she woke up to the explosion and thought her son had been killed.

"I picked him up and thought he was martyred," she said. He was alive but injured.

"I started running outside and found everyone [was] injured and martyred," she said.

Two foam mattresses stacked on top of one another, the bottom one covered in blood, laying atop concrete debris near a wall blown out in a bombing.

Many of the dead and injured were taken to the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital in the city of Deir al-Balah, about five kilometres away, where patients — including children — were treated on the floor of the overcrowded facility.

A hospital spokesperson told Reuters that 14 children and nine women were among 40 dead brought to the hospital overnight, with a further 74 wounded, including 23 children and 18 women.

Dr. Ashraf Al-Attar, an emergency room doctor, told El Saife the hospital is already struggling with overcrowding and is lacking resources and equipment resulting in surgeries having to be put on hold.

"[It] made it difficult to deal with the injuries we received last night, injuries I've never seen before," he said.

A boy with a bandaged head and blood caked to his face lays on a hospital floor crying as doctors treat his injuries.

Displaced then displaced again

In the light of day on Thursday, Abu Daher was among those still at the site as people were clearing the debris of the building they'll continue to shelter in.

More than 1.7 million of Gaza's population of 2.3 million people have been displaced in the eight-month-long war.

At least 370,000 housing units in Gaza have been damaged, including 79,000 that were destroyed completely, according to a recent report by the UN Development Program (UNDP) and the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia

A woman, wearing a red, white, black and grey patterned headscarf, sits outside in front of a damaged building.

In recent weeks, hundreds of thousands of people were forced to flee Rafah, previously one of the only refuges for evacuees, as Israeli forces began an assault in the southern Gaza city — despite an emergency order from the International Court of Justice to halt the invasion.

But this is the third time in the past two weeks sites where dozens of civilians have been killed where they are taking shelter.

Israel faced international condemnation after a May 27 strike that set off a deadly fire in a tent encampment in the southern city of Rafah, killing 45 people.

The Israeli government vowed to investigate.

But Israel denied it attacked a second tent encampment the following day, near Rafah, where a further 21 people were killed.

LISTEN | Doctors Without Borders nurse describes harrowing scene at Gaza hospital:

As It Happens6:37Utter chaos' at one of Gaza's last standing hospitals, says nurse

An Israeli airstrike at a UN-run school in central Gaza has killed more than a dozen people. Israel says it was targeting Hamas fighters, but locals say it was just one of several strikes in the area this week. Karin Huster, a Doctors Without Borders nurse at Al Aqsa hospital, told As It Happens host Nil Köksal that badly injured patients are lying on the floor, people are screaming for help, and bodies arriving by ambulance are being lined up in the courtyard as loved ones say their final prayers.

Calls for transparency, independent investigation

The European Union's head of foreign policy has called for an independent investigation of Thursday's attack.

U.S. State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said the Biden administration has been in contact with the Israeli government and expects it to be fully transparent making information about the strike public.

At the UN, Stéphane Djurric, the spokesperson for Secretary General António Gutteres, said the attack was another horrific example of the price that civilians are paying."

When asked if the IDF had committed a war crime, Djurric said "there will need to be accountability for everything that has happened in Gaza" since the war began immediately following the Oct. 7 attacks.

Hamas-led militants killed around 1,200 people during the attacks, according to Israel, with more than 5,000 others injured. Militants took some 250 hostages back to Gaza. There are about 130 hostages remaining in Gaza. About 85 are believed to still be alive, alongside the remains of 43 others.

Israel's subsequent bombardments and assault on Gaza has killed more than 36,500 Palestinians in nearly eight months, according to Gaza health officials, with a further 83,000 injured.

WATCH | Many of the injured were children:

Israeli airstrike on UN school kills dozens

5 hours ago

Duration 2:03

An Israeli strike on a United Nations school in Gaza has killed dozens, many of them children. Israel says Hamas fighters were sheltering inside, but so were thousands of Palestinian civilians. Canada joined other countries in urging an immediate ceasefire.

Credit belongs to : www.cbc.ca

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