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UN chief says today's strike on a UN school is "a criminal act"

Israel says its operation is ‘changing gear’.

Image: AP Photo/Hatem Moussa

Updated 4.35 pm

UN SECRETARY GENERAL Ban Ki-moon strongly condemned the shelling of another UN school in Gaza , calling it “a moral outrage and a criminal act.”

“This madness must stop,” Ban said through his spokesman after at least 10 people were killed when a shell hit outside a UN school in Rafah crowded with Palestinian refugees.

The strike of a UN school in Gaza shortly after Israel confirmed it had begun withdrawing some troops from the war-torn enclave.

The strike on the school sheltering displaced Palestinians in the southern city of Rafah came as Israel pounded the region following the suspected capture of a soldier by militants, who was later declared dead.

It was the third time in 10 days that a UN school had been hit and came four days after Israeli tank shells slammed into a school in the northern town of Jabaliya, killing 16 in an attack furiously denounced by Ban as “reprehensible”.

Following today’s attack on the UNRWA shelter, the Secretary General said that the Israel Defence Forces have repeatedly been informed that the areas are safe zones and that “the attack is yet another gross violation of international humanitarian law”:

United Nations shelters must be safe zones not combat zones. The Israel Defence Forces have been repeatedly informed of the location of these sites. This attack, along with other breaches of international law, must be swiftly investigated and those responsible held accountable. It is a moral outrage and a criminal act.

Mideast United States UN Gaza Ban Ki-moon says he is profoundly dismayed over the appalling escalation of violence. Source: AP/Press Association Images

An AFP correspondent said there were scenes of chaos at the site, with rescuers trying to evacuate the wounded any way they could, while adults were seen sprinting frantically away through pools of blood, young children clutched in their arms.

Chris Gunness, spokesman for the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA), said the school had been housing thousands of internally displaced people (IDPs) who had been forced to flee their homes by the ongoing violence in Gaza.

Images of the carnage in Gaza, where medics say 1,766 Palestinians have been killed and another 9,320 wounded in the past 27 days, have shocked the public worldwide with British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond demanding an unconditional ceasefire to resolve the “intolerable” situation for civilians trapped in Gaza”.

“We have to get the killing to stop,” Hammond told the Sunday Telegraph, saying many people were “deeply disturbed” by the civilian loss of life.

Intensive international attempts to broker a diplomatic end to the fighting between Israel and Hamas have so far proved fruitless but the efforts are continuing.

Negotiators

A Palestinian delegation was to hold truce talks Sunday in Cairo with senior US and Egyptian officials, although Israel has said it sees no point in sending its negotiators to the meeting, citing what it says are Hamas breaches of previous agreed truces.

Islamic Jihad was also expected to join along with US Middle East envoy Frank Lowenstein.

Several Israeli newspapers reported that cabinet ministers have taken a decision not to seek a further negotiated ceasefire agreement with Hamas and were considering ending the military operation unilaterally.

Israel’s army confirmed on Sunday it had begun withdrawing some troops from Gaza.

“We are removing some (forces),” Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner told AFP, saying troops were “extremely close” to completing a mission to destroy a network of attack tunnels.

“We are redeploying within the Gaza Strip, taking out other positions, and relieving other forces from within, so it won’t be the same type of ground operation,” he said.

“But indeed we will continue to operate … (and) have a rapid reaction force on the ground that can engage Hamas if required.

“It’s changing gear but it’s still ongoing.”

- © AFP, 2014 with additional reporting by Rónán Duffy

Originally published 4.33 pm

Read: Israel announces death of missing soldier, while 12 die in air strikes on Gaza >

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