By BosNewsLife Chief International Correspondent Stefan J. Bos and BosNewsLife Chief Middle East Correspondent George Whitten reporting from Israel
JERUSALEM, ISRAEL (BosNewsLife) –- At least 40 people were killed and over 50 injured when the Israeli Air Force struck a United Nations-run school in the Gaza Strip in what it said was a response to repeated mortar and rocket attacks from militants of the Hamas group.
Soon after, more Palestinians died when secondary explosions took place after the strike, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) said in comments monitored by BosNewsLife and its partner news agency Worthy News.
The IDF said it has video showing Hamas operatives used the school as a base for attacks against Israel and civilians as human shields. There was also concern that minority Christians in the Gaza Strip would be in the crossfire, as Islamic militants have accused them of supporting Israel.
There are also up to 3,000 Christians in the area, according to several advocacy groups.
Israel was allegedly forced to attack “the terrorists” within the school Tuesday, January 6. It was difficult to verify independently, as Israel has not allowed foreign journalists to enter the Gaza Strip.
However there was frustration over the attack among United Nations workers in the area. John Ging from the U.N. Relief and Works Agency in Gaza said the school was clearly marked as a U.N. compound. “The school in Jebaliya is a preparatory girls’ school in normal circumstances. Again, very visible, clearly marked building – as all of our buildings are,” he said.
“And as I said already, we provided the Global Positioning Satellite coordinates to the Israeli military and updated regularly with them and this year again, so they are fully familiar with where our locations are, and again, flag flying there,” the U.N. official added. The U.N also called for an independent inquiry. “Anyone on either side of the confrontation lines found to have violated international humanitarian law must be brought to justice,” said Christopher Gunness, a U.N. spokesman.
The night before, the U.N. said, three Palestinian men were killed in an Israeli attack on another United Nations school for refugees in Gaza. However Israel said it is filing a complaint with the United Nations over the use of some of U.N. schools by Hamas.
Some Arabic media have also expressed concerns. Last week, an Iranian reformist daily newspaper was shut down by the Iranian government after criticizing Hamas “for risking lives of civilians, amongst them children, by hiding its forces in nurseries and hospitals”, according to translations obtained by BosNewsLife.
Meanwhile Israeli Defense Forces seem to suggest fierce resistance from militants. The IDF also said at least four soldiers were killed and dozens injured in the ground assault since Monday, January 5.
“During fierce fighting on Monday night, by Golani Brigade combat soldiers against Hamas operatives in the northern Gaza Strip, two soldiers and an officer were killed,” the IDF said in a statement monitored by Worthy News.
“This was the result of an IDF artillery shell firing erroneously and hitting the structure where the soldiers were located.” It said Major Dagan Vartman, 32, Staff Sergeant Nitai Shatran, 21, and Corporal Yoseph Moadi, 19, would be buried Tuesday, January 6. It came as another soldier, identified as Staff Sergeant Alexander Mashvitski, a 21 year old Engineering Corps fighter from Beer Sheva, was killed in northern Gaza City.
“During a joint activity by the Golani Brigade and Engineering Corps combat forces in the northern Gaza City, terrorists opened fire and killed Staff Sergeant Mashvitski,” the IDF said.
Among those fighting are also Messianic Jews, Jews who believe Jesus is the Messiah. “There are at least 30 Messianic believers serving in the IDF inside Gaza now, and perhaps as many as 50,” said Avner Boskey, a Messianic leader living near the Israeli town of Be’er Sheva, near the Gaza Strip.
Arabic nations have urged Israel to end the operations, but the Israeli government says it will only agree on a ceasefire if rocket attacks from Hamas end.
“Yesterday morning, three sirens went off through Be’er Sheva as Grad rockets landed harmlessly throughout the region,” from the Gaza Strip, Messianic Leader Howard Bass told Worthy News
Foreigners have also been caught in the middle of the rocket strikes.
Two German Christian tourists were driving through Be’er Sheva when sirens sounded causing all traffic to stop and people rushing out of their cars running to bomb shelters, Worthy News learned. The tourists, speaking on condition of anonymity, said they left their car in the middle of the street and followed the crowds into a city bomb shelter.
Under Israeli regulations, every new building must have a bomb shelter, and starting this year every shelter built is required to be equipped with an air filtration unit against the possibility of a biological attack in the future.