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Israeli strike kills at least 29 at Gaza displacement camp

Image caption, Casualties from the strike were brought to Nasser hospital in Khan Younis

  • Author, David Gritten
  • Role, BBC News

At least 29 Palestinians have been killed and dozens wounded in an Israeli air strike on a tent camp for displaced people outside a school in southern Gaza, hospital officials say.

Gaza’s Hamas-run health ministry said Tuesday’s strike hit next to the gate of al-Awda school in the town of Abasan al-Kabira, east of the city of Khan Younis.

One eyewitness described the number of casualties as “unimaginable”.

The Israeli military said it had used “precise munition” to target a “terrorist from Hamas’ military wing” who had taken part in the 7 October attack on Israel. It also said it was “looking into the reports that civilians were harmed” adjacent to the school.

The strike was condemned the European Union and Germany.

“People seeking shelter in schools getting killed is unacceptable,” the German foreign ministry said in a statement on X. “The repeated attacks on schools by the Israeli army must stop and an investigation must come quickly.”

The incident comes a week after the Israeli military ordered civilians to evacuate Abasan al-Kabira and other areas of eastern Khan Younis, prompting tens of thousands to flee.

Much of the city was destroyed in a long Israeli offensive earlier this year, but large numbers of Palestinians had moved there to escape the continuing Israeli operation in nearby Rafah.

The BBC has spoken to witnesses who said the area around al-Awda school was teeming with displaced people from villages east of Khan Younis, and who recounted the bloody aftermath of the strike in graphic detail.

The attack resulted in widespread destruction and the deaths of women and children, according to the witnesses.

Body parts were scattered across the site and many people staying in tents outside the school were also injured.

Al Jazeera TV posted a graphic video that it said showed the moment the missile hit the area.

A crowd of people are seen watching a football match inside a school courtyard and then running for cover following a loud explosion nearby.

Multiple screams can be heard as the cameraman rushes towards a street that is strewn with debris. Dead and wounded people also seen lying on the ground.

Image caption, The strike was the fourth on or near to schools sheltering displaced people in four days

Ayman Al-Dahma, 21, told the BBC there had been as many as 3,000 people packed into the area at the time, which he said housed a market and residential buildings.

Describing the number of casualties as “unimaginable”, he said he had seen people whose limbs had been severed by the blast.

He continued: “They said it was a safe place – that there were water and food, there were schools and everything… Suddenly a rocket comes down on you and all the people around you.”

Mohamed Awadeh Anzeh told the BBC the area had been busy with people and market traders “going about their normal lives” when the strike hit.

He continued: “Suddenly, while we were sitting, there was a sound. It went dark… I was feeding my little child.

“I don’t know what happened. Suddenly, I took him and started running… and while I was running, I saw blood coming down from my leg.”

He described a “terrifying” scene and said he had witnessed body parts strewn across the street.

Iqram Sallout said there had been no prior warning a strike could be imminent in the area, which he told the BBC had been filled with people forced from their homes by the conflict.

“There are many displaced people – you couldn’t even walk in the streets, there were many tents and people, including young people”.

He added: “The injuries we saw were severe, even among young children.”

One video from Nasser hospital in Khan Younis, where the casualties from Abasan al-Kabira were taken, showed more than a dozen dead and seriously wounded people, including several children, on the floor of one room.

Image caption, The attack resulted in the deaths of women and children, witnesses said

This was the fourth attack on or near to schools sheltering displaced people in four days.

The Israeli military said it had carried out the first three strikes because Hamas politicians, police officers and fighters were using them as bases:

  • On Saturday, 16 people were killed in a strike on a school run by the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (Unrwa) in the urban Nuseirat refugee camp, in central Gaza, which had about 2,000 displaced people sheltering inside, according to the Hamas-run health ministry
  • On Sunday, a strike on a church-run school in Gaza City killed a senior Hamas government official and three other people, local sources said
  • On Monday night, several people were reportedly wounded in a strike on another Unrwa-run school in Nuseirat.

The head of Unrwa, Philippe Lazzarini, said two thirds of its schools in Gaza had been hit, and some had been “bombed out”, since the start of the war.

“Schools have gone from safe places of education and hope for children to overcrowded shelters and often ending up a place of death and misery,” he wrote on X.

“The blatant disregard of international humanitarian law cannot become the new normal.”

In a separate development in northern Gaza on Wednesday, the Israeli military said its troops had conducted an overnight operation against Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad fighters who were operating in an Unrwa headquarters in Gaza City and using it as a base to carry out attacks.

The military said troops had opened a “defined corridor to facilitate the evacuation of civilians” from the area before they entered the structure and “eliminated terrorists in close-quarters combat”.

There was no immediate comment from Unrwa.

Israeli ground forces have re-entered several areas of Gaza City in the past two weeks following what the military has said is intelligence indicating that Hamas and PIJ fighters have regrouped there since the start of the year.

The Israeli military launched a campaign in Gaza to destroy Hamas in response to an unprecedented attack on southern Israel on 7 October, during which about 1,200 people were killed and 251 others were taken hostage.

More than 38,240 people have been killed in Gaza since then, according to the territory’s Hamas-run health ministry.

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