GAZA/AMMAN—Palestinians reported a deadly Israeli strike on a Gaza City area school serving as a shelter on Saturday, as U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken was due to hear Arab demands for a ceasefire in a meeting in Jordan.
Witnesses said the strike hit Al-Fakhoura school in Jabalia, where thousands of evacuees were living. At least 15 people died and dozens more were wounded, said Mohammad Abu Selmeyah, an official in the health ministry in the Hamas-run enclave.
Juliette Touma, director of communication for the U.N. Palestinian refugee agency (UNRWA), confirmed to Reuters that the U.N-run school had been hit. She said there were children among the casualties, but that UNRWA had not yet been able to verify the exact death toll.
“At least one strike hit the schoolyard where there were tents for displaced families. Another strike hit inside the school where women were baking bread,” Ms. Touma said by phone.
Reuters pictures of the aftermath showed broken furniture and other belongings lying on the ground, patches of blood and people crying.
“People were preparing breakfast, when suddenly bombing started,” one man said in video footage obtained by Reuters.
“I found my two girls, one of them was martyred and her head was hit, the second was wounded in her leg … the other girl as well was wounded with shrapnel.”
The ministry of health in Gaza said another Israeli missile strike killed two women at the door of the Nasser Children Hospital. Several more people were injured, it said.
The Israeli military had no immediate comment on either incident.
Israel’s ground forces encircled Gaza City on Thursday after stepping up a bombing campaign it says aims at wiping out Hamas, after the terrorist group killed 1,400 people and took more than 240 hostage in an Oct. 7 assault in southern Israel.
Gaza health officials said on Saturday that more than 9,488 Palestinians have been killed so far in the Israeli assault.
Israel last month ordered all civilians to leave the northern part of the Gaza Strip, including Gaza City where it says Hamas terrorists are hiding in tunnels, and head to the south of the enclave.
It has continued to bomb the whole enclave, saying the terrorists are hiding among civilians, and many people have stayed in the north, where they say they now feel trapped.
The military said it would enable Palestinians to travel on a main Gaza Strip highway, the Salah a-Din road, on Saturday between 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. (1100 GMT and 1400). “If you care about yourself and your loved ones, heed our instruction to head south,” it said in a social media post in Arabic.
U.S. Special Envoy David Satterfield said in Amman that between 800,000 to a million people have already moved to the south of the Gaza Strip, while 350,000–400,000 remain in northern Gaza City and its environs.
Palestinians were searching in the rubble for survivors of an Israeli airstrike in the southern city of Khan Younis.
“We are steadfast in Gaza, even if only one citizen is left, from there the state will start again,” 65-year old Palestinian Harb Al-Barqy said.
Blinken Hears Ceasefire Demands
Lebanon’s caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati emphasized the urgency of a ceasefire in Gaza when he met Mr. Blinken in Amman on Saturday, Lebanon state news agency said.
Mr. Blinken, in turn, emphasized his efforts to halt military operations for humanitarian reasons and to address the issue of prisoners.
The Israeli military said it was striking what it described as “a number of Hezbollah terror targets in Lebanon” following fire from there, part of the biggest flareup since 2006.
Lebanon’s powerful Hezbollah group is backed by Iran, as is Hamas. Its leader on Friday warned that conflict could spread if Israel continued bombing Gaza.
Saturday Mr. Blinken is also due to meet the Saudi, Qatari, Emirati, and Egyptian foreign ministers, as well as Palestinian representatives in Amman, the Jordanian foreign ministry said.
The Arab leaders will stress the “Arab stance calling for an immediate ceasefire, delivering humanitarian aid and ways of ending the dangerous deterioration that threatens the security of the region”, the ministry said in a statement.
Washington has maintained robust military and political support for Israel, while calling on its ally to take steps to avoid civilian deaths and address Gaza’s humanitarian crisis.
Gaza health officials had said 15 people were killed in an Israeli air strike on an ambulance on Friday evening that was part of a convoy carrying injured Palestinians at Gaza’s biggest hospital, al-Shifa.
Israel’s military said it had identified and hit an ambulance “being used by an Hamas terrorist cell” and that a number of Hamas fighters were killed.
The Palestinian health ministry challenged Israel to provide proof that the ambulance was carrying terrorists. Israel said it intended to release additional information. It has accused Hamas of concealing command centres and tunnel entrances in al-Shifa, something Hamas and the hospital denies.
Gaza’s living conditions, already dire before the fighting, have deteriorated further. Food is scarce, residents have resorted to drinking salty water, medical services are collapsing.
Israel’s military began widespread ground operations a week ago and in its latest update it said a combined tank and combat engineering unit carried out a “pinpoint raid” in the southern Gaza Strip “to map out buildings and neutralise explosives.”
Israel Says No Pause Unless Hostages Are Freed
Hamas official Izzat El Reshiq on Saturday urged Arab leaders and people to pressure Israel and the United States by cutting diplomatic ties, expelling ambassadors, and leveraging oil and economic interests to support the Gaza Strip’s people.
Mr. Blinken met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday and called for a humanitarian pause in fighting that he said would facilitate work to release hostages, allow aid into Gaza but not prevent Israel from defending itself.
In a televised address, Mr. Netanyahu rejected the idea of a pause unless hostages were freed.