Israeli forces surged into towns across the Gaza Strip yesterday and struck a U.N.-run school, killing at least 40 people. An Israeli spokeswoman said she was looking into information on the incident at al-Fakhora school in Jabalya refugee camp. It was the third deadly Israeli attack to strike a U.N. school in the past few hours.
Troops fought Islamist militants around the back alleys of Gaza's main city in the heaviest fighting of the 11-day-old offensive to halt rocket attacks on Israel, reported Agence France-Presse. Hamas made its deepest rocket strike yet into Israel, as the war toll reached more than 620 people.
"There's nowhere safe in Gaza. Everyone here is terrorized and traumatized," said John Ging, the top U.N. official in Gaza.
"I am appealing to political leaders here and in the region and the world to get their act together and stop this," he said, speaking at Gaza's largest hospital. "They are responsible for these deaths," he said, reported The Associated Press.
The U.N.-run schools had been used as shelters for people displaced by Israel's offensive against Hamas militants. A top U.N. humanitarian official has condemned the violence and demanded an investigation. On the diplomatic front, Arab nations pressed the case for a U.N. Security Council resolution condemning the onslaught, but Israel rejected ceasefire calls by French President Nicolas Sarkozy and other leaders.
"Europe must open its eyes," President Shimon Peres told an EU ministerial delegation that demanded a truce. "We are not in the business of public relations or improving our image. We have every right to defend our citizens."
Also yesterday a Hamas delegation went to Egypt’s capital, Cairo, to discuss an Egyptian-proposed ceasefire with Israel. The talks with the Palestinian delegation, headed by Emad al-Alami and Mohammed Nasr from Hamas's Syrian-based political leadership, represent the first such contact since fighting began but hopes of a truce appear dim.
In a "friendly fire" incident, an Israeli tank shell killed three Israeli soldiers and wounded 24 other troops on Monday. The Israeli casualties -- the highest since Israel launched "Operation Cast Lead" -- raised questions in the Jewish state over whether its leaders should press on with the offensive.
"This time, we cast lead on ourselves," said a commentator on Israeli Army Radio. An Israeli officer was killed in a separate incident, apparently also by Israeli fire, the army said.