Nearly 70 Palestinians were killed today, including 16 at a UN school, in fierce fighting between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, even as the Jewish nation under intense international pressure agreed to observe a four-hour humanitarian pause.
Israel continued to pound Gaza from air, land and sea overnight. At least 68 Palestinians were killed and 110 injured in Israeli attacks on the 23rd day of the Gaza offensive, a spokesman for Gaza's Ministry of Health said.
In total, 1,283 people in Gaza have been killed and more than 7,100 have been wounded since the conflict between Israel and Hamas began on July 8, the Palestinian Ministry of Health in Gaza said.
The most devastating attack today killed at least 16 at the UN school where many Palestinians had taken shelter after having fled away from their homes following Israeli warnings.
"The shell struck Abu Hussein school in Jabaliya, which was sheltering hundreds of newly-displaced Palestinians," Abu Ali, a local, told PTI.
It is the second time this month that a UN school in Gaza has come under attack. On Thursday, 16 people were killed and hundreds wounded when a UN-run school in northern Gaza was struck.
Bob Turner, the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) Gaza director, said that the attack on the school in the Jabaliya refugee camp came without warning.
Israel, which has accused the militant group Hamas of using schools as bases to launch rockets, said it was investigating the reports.
The Israeli military had "ruled out" that it was responsible for the attack, saying a single "errant" shell had landed in an empty courtyard.
The attack came a day after one of the bloodiest days in the fighting between Israel and Hamas in which more than 100 people were killed.
Israel Defence Forces (IDF) today aid that it had targeted "75 terror sites" in the Gaza Strip overnight.
The current conflict is now the longest between Israel and militants from Gaza. The longest so far was 22 days in 2008 when Israeli army also entered Gaza "to destroy terrorist infrastructure".
Announcing the four-hour humanitarian pause, IDF Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Benny Gantz said, "The lull will not apply to areas where the Israeli army continues to operate in search of tunnels."
It could not be immediately confirmed if the Gaza-based militant factions have also agreed to the four-hour truce.
A spokesperson for the IDF warned that any attempt by the Gaza militant organisations to use the temporary truce to fire rockets at Israeli citizens will be answered.
Israel stepped up the intensity of its strikes yesterday after a brief pause on Monday, saying it had hit a number of tunnels dug by militants to infiltrate and attack the country.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also warned people to get ready for a prolonged war after rockets continued to land in Israel from Gaza.
At least 10 Israeli soldiers were killed on Monday, five of them in an attempted infiltration by militants into Israel via a cross-border tunnel from Gaza, raising the number of Israeli soldiers killed to 53 since the start of Operation Protective Edge on July 8. Three Israeli civilians have also died.
International efforts have so far failed to get Israel and Hamas to agree to a truce and start negotiations.
Hamas yesterday rejected a fresh ceasefire proposal put forward by the Palestinian Authority that called for a 24-hour truce that could be extended to 72 hours.
Meanwhile, the United Nations yesterday revealed that a cache of rockets were being hidden at one of its schools in Gaza, the third incident case of its kind, requesting both sides to help the organisation maintain its neutrality.
" It was yet another flagrant violation of the neutrality of our premises. We call on all the warring parties to respect the inviolability of UN property," a statement from UNRWA said.
UN figures released today indicate that at least three quarters of the dead people in Gaza were civilians.
"The more than 240 Palestinian children who have died in the conflict represent at least 29 per cent of civilian casualties," UNICEF said in a statement, adding that another six children in Israel had been wounded from Gaza rocket fire.
So far, The world body has said that more than 215,000 people have fled their homes in Gaza, leaving one in eight people homeless.
Meanwhile, Hamas has appealed Lebanese Shia faction Hezbullah to join the war.
Moussa Abu Marzouk, Hamas' deputy bureau chief currently based in Cairo said that his Islamic faction hoped that Hezbollah would engage Israel from the north.
"There's no arguing that Lebanese resistance could mean a lot," Abu Marzouk was quoted by the Jerusalem Post as saying.
"We hope the Lebanese front will open and together we will fight against this formation [Israel]," he said.
Hezbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah last week vowed to support "the resistance in Gaza in any way necessary" in its fight against the IDF.
Can we ever stop this conflict?
R C Mathew