The United States and United Nations condemned the shelling by Israel of a U.N.-run school in Gaza that housed Palestinians seeking refuge, killing at least 15 people and wounding more than 100 early Wednesday.
The Obama administration condemned the school shelling, using tough, yet carefully worded language that reflects growing White House irritation with Israel and the mounting civilian casualties stemming from its ground and air war against Hamas.
Spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan said the U.S. is extremely concerned that thousands of Palestinian driven from their homes cannot find safety in U.N.-designated shelters. She also condemns those who hide weapons in those shelters.
The White House did not blame anyone for Wednesday's shelling.
But U.N. officials said all indicators are that Israeli artillery hit the U.N. school in the northern Gaza Strip early Wednesday.
Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called it "outrageous" and said nothing is more shameful than attacking sleeping children.
U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson was emotional as he spoke about the attack which also injured more than 100 people.
“Sometimes you run out of words,” he said before explaining that U.N. officials received news of the attack with “shock and dismay.”
The elementary school in Jabaliya is the fifth U.N. school sheltering Palestinian families to be attacked since hostilities began.
"They were there under U.N. protection — under our protection — and after warnings from the Israeli Defense Forces who had numerous times been informed about the presence of over 3,000 civilians at this location.”
Israel said it was responding to mortar fire from near the school. It has consistently condemned Hamas for using civilians, including infants, as human shields by launching attacks from civilian areas.
Israeli shells also killed 16 Wednesday at a Gaza market.
Hamas said it fired a salvo of rockets into Israel in retaliation for both attacks.
Eliasson said the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, which operates in Gaza, had communicated the school’s coordinates to the Israeli military authorities 17 times — as recently as last night, just a few hours before the attack. That agency also informs Hamas of U.N. locations.
“UNRWA’s initial assessment and all indicators are that it was Israeli artillery that hit the school," he said. "An Israeli spokesperson has confirmed that mortar fire had been coming from militants in the vicinity of the school and that Israeli troops had fired back in response.”
Speaking in Costa Rica on Wednesday, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon strongly condemned the attack, saying it demands accountability and justice, adding, “Nothing is more shameful than attacking sleeping children.”
The U.N. is sheltering some 200,000 people at its facilities, including schools, in Gaza. John Ging, U.N. humanitarian operations chief, said that nearly 6,000 homes and 23 medical facilities have been destroyed. Six U.N. staff have also been killed during the conflict.
The United Nations has repeatedly called for an immediate cease-fire.
More than 1,300 Palestinians have been killed in three weeks of fighting, according to the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry. More than 50 Israelis have also died in the clashes.