Condemning as "unjustifiable and shameful" the shelling of a UN-run school in Gaza sheltering thousands of displaced Palestinians, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon today said those responsible for the attack should be held accountable.
The UN Chief, speaking to reporters on his arrival in Costa Rica, reiterated his call to Israel to ensure safety of United Nations sites and security of women, children and families seeking protection there.
"Nothing is more shameful than attacking sleeping children. I condemn this attack in the strongest possible terms. It is outrageous. It is unjustifiable. And it demands accountability and justice. I call on the parties to stop the fighting and agree on an immediate, unconditional ceasefire," Ban said.
The UN school in the Jabaliya refugee camp in northern Gaza, which was sheltering more than 3,000 homeless people, came under attack from Israeli tank shells this morning, killing 20 people, including children, and injuring several others.
It is the second time in a week that a UN school housing refugees has been hit. Last week, 16 people were killed and hundreds wounded when another school in northern Gaza was hit.
The UN Chief said "all available evidence" points to Israeli artillery as the cause of the "reprehensible attack".
Ban noted that the "precise" location of the Jabaliya Elementary Girls School had been communicated to the Israeli military authorities "17 times" and as recently as last night, "just a few hours before the attack."
Ban said the Israeli military authorities were aware of the coordinates and exact locations where these people were being sheltered.
"Families had been instructed to seek sanctuary at UN sites, including the one repeatedly shelled today," he said.
Denouncing the latest "tragic" developments in Gaza, Ban said about 1,300 people have been killed and almost 6,000 people have been wounded.
The United Nations is hosting 140,000 displaced persons in its facilities, including many schools.
Ban reiterated his call that all parties must immediately stop the violence and return to the dialogue table to address the "root causes, which have already been identified, whatever legitimate causes or grievances they may have."
Condemning the attack, the UN Chief said, "They cannot continue like this, letting their people [be] killed all the time. This is unacceptable, and as Secretary-General of the United Nations, I have proposed and appealed [for an] immediate, unconditional humanitarian ceasefire, which will allow these wounded people to be taken care of and also which will allow for them to have dialogue, to resolve this issue through dialogue in peaceful means."
Earlier, top United Nations officials strongly condemned the attacks on UN schools serving as a shelter for Palestinians in Gaza.
"Children killed in their sleep. This is an affront to all of us, a source of universal shame. Today the world stands disgraced," UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) Commissioner General Pierre Krahenbuhl said.
UNRWA said according to an initial assessment, Israeli artillery has hit on at least three occasions the school administered by the agency where 3,300 people were seeking refuge. The attack resulted in multiple civilian deaths and injuries, including to women and children and to UNRWA guards trying to protect the site.
The agency said that it was the sixth time that one of the UN-administered schools has been struck.
"Our staff, the very people leading the humanitarian response are being killed. Our shelters are overflowing. Tens of thousands may soon be stranded in the streets of Gaza, without food, water and shelter if attacks on these areas continue," UNRWA added.
He called on the international community to take deliberate international political action to put an immediate end to the continuing "carnage."
UN sources said a compound housing the Office of the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process (UNSCO) and the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) was hit yesterday five times in a time period of just one hour.
Preliminary investigation showed there were two projectiles that hit the ground just outside the compound, one of which is believed to have hit Gaza's sole power plant.
Pending a more formal investigation to ascertain the responsibilities for the shelling of its compound, UNSCO called the relevant parties to the conflict of their responsibility to protect UN operations.
UN Special Coordinator Robert Serry said he is "deeply concerned" about the incident and other violations of United Nations premises during the conflict and condemns the loss of civilian lives, including United Nations personnel.
Of the quarter million people displaced in Gaza, an estimated 200,000 are in 82 schools serving as UNRWA shelters, according to OCHA, the equivalent of 10 per cent of Gaza's population.
"Our capacity is stretched to the limit," Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Valeria Amos said.
The UN World Food Programme (WFP) is providing emergency food assistance to 204,000 people, in addition to the regular food programmes, and shortages in the markets are reported.
"Given the deteriorating humanitarian situation, people's needs will continue to grow," Amos said, reiterating calls for a ceasefire to end the conflict.