GAZA CITY (Ma'an) -- A spokesman for the UN's Palestine refugee agency UNRWA in Gaza Adnan Abu Hasana said on Thursday that they had received no warning before Israeli forces shelled a Beit Hanoun school that was serving as a shelter earlier in the afternoon.
The attack killed at least 17 and injured more than 200 of the displaced civilians who had taken shelter there, the fourth time in two days that Israeli forces have bombed schools serving as shelters in the besieged Gaza Strip.
The UNRWA spokesman said in a statement that the majority of the displaced people at the shelter were elderly people, women, and children.
"We told the army several times to warn us because we know that the school is located in a dangerous place. We told them to give us enough time so we can evacuate women and UNRWA team, but they did not."
UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness tweeted in response to the attack that the "Precise co-ordinates of the UNRWA shelter in Beit Hanoun had been formally given to the Israeli army."
He added: "Over the course of the day, UNRWA tried 2 coordinate with the Israeli Army a window for civilians 2 leave & it was never granted."
A local radio station quoted an eyewitness as saying that immediately before the shelling, a man who introduced himself as a Red Cross official had asked displaced people taking shelter at the school to gather in the yard because they would be evacuated to another shelter.
An UNRWA official intervened when he saw people gathering and argued that there had been no coordination with UNRWA, telling them to go back to their rooms. During the argument, Israeli artillery shells started to hit the school.
Palestinian militant groups Hamas, the Islamic Jihad, and the Popular Resistance Committees described the attack on the school as an "ugly crime" for which the Israelis "will pay."
Spokesman for the Ministry of Health Ashraf al-Qidra said that ambulances have started to evacuated victims to three hospitals in the northern Gaza Strip in addition to al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City.
The Israeli military said in a statement around 5:30 p.m. that it was in the midst of combat in the area of Beit Hanoun with Hamas and that the group was using "civilian infrastructure and international symbols as human shields."
It also claimed that over the course of afternoon, several rockets launched by the group had landed in the Beit Hanoun area, and that the incident was under review.
An eyewitness said that displaced people were sitting in the front yard when Israeli artillery shells started to hit them. Another eyewitness said they saw five shells hitting the school.
Earlier in the day, Gunness said on Twitter that three teachers for the UN agency had been killed, marking the first deaths among UNRWA workers.
"The 1st UNRWA fatalities in #Gaza; 3 teachers. 2 women, 1 man killed along with family members by incoming fire. 2 women while in residences," Gunness tweeted.
"Losing a colleague is hard to bear. Losing a colleague in these circumstances is unbearable."
During Israel's 2008-9 offensive on Gaza, Israeli tanks shelled an area outside an UNRWA school in Jabaliya refugee camp, killing 42 people, all but one of them civilians.
'Stop bombing civilians'
The attacks brought Thursday's total number of deaths to at least 80, as dozens of Palestinians have been killed as Israel continued its bombardment from land, air, and sea.
More than 760 Palestinians have been killed since Israel launched its attack on the Gaza Strip 17 days ago, the majority since the ground began last week.
Gaza-based rights groups have said that the vast majority of those killed are civilians, including nearly 200 children.
International medical organization Doctors without Borders called on Israel to "stop bombing civilians trapped in the sealed-off Gaza Strip, and to respect the safety of medical workers and health facilities" on Monday, as it said that the majority of those arriving in emergency rooms where its doctors were working were women and children.
"While official claims that the objective of the ground offensive is to destroy tunnels into Israel, what we see on the ground is that bombing is indiscriminate and that those who die are civilians," said Nicolas Palarus a field coordinator for the group in Gaza.
The group also said that Israel had directly targeted an ambulance with an air strike, despite the fact that they had been guaranteed movement.
A recent airstrike hit a residential block in al-Zahraa in the central Gaza Strip and a house belonging to Nofal family in the Al-Nasr neighborhood in Gaza City.
Five Palestinians have been killed in the most recent Israeli attacks across the Strip, al-Qidra said in a statement.
Earlier, 23-year-old Isam Faysal and 13-year-old Amir Adel Siyam were killed by an Israeli raid on Rafah.
Meanwhile, 21-year-old Abdul-Aziz Nur Addin was killed by an airstrike on a market in Shujaiyya. The Ministry of Health announced earlier that 19-year-old Saer Audah Shamali was killed in Shujaiyya.
Earlier on Thursday, four bodies were pulled from the rubble of buildings in Khuzaa, where dozens were killed in heavy Israeli shelling over night.
The bodies were later identified as Rasmi Abu Reida, Muhammad Abu Yousif, Ahmad Qudeih and Rami Qudeih.
Israeli airstrikes also killed seven Palestinians in western Kkhan Younis. Gaza Ministry of Health spokesman Al-Qidra said that an airstrike killed Ahmad Abdul-Karim, Ahmad Hasan and Muhammad Ismail Khader there.
He added that Ahmad al-Mashhadi and Ahmad Khadir were killed in another raid on Khan Younis.
Earlier, he announced that bodies of Anas Akram Skafi, 18, and his twin brother Saad were removed from rubble in Shujaiyya, the site of the killing of nearly 70 Palestinians in one day over the weekend.
Emergency teams on Thursday also managed to remove the body of a dead woman, identified as Alal Khalil Abu Ayda, and three injured people from the rubble of a home belonging to the al-Bardini family which Israeli missiles demolished earlier in the city of al-Zahraa in the central Gaza Strip.
Al-Qidra said earlier that five Palestinian men were killed by two separate Israeli airstrikes on a motorcycle and a tuk-tuk (auto-rickshaw) in Abasan al-Kabira east of Khan Younis.
Medical sources identified four of the victims as Nabil Shihdah Qudeih, Nadir Suleiman Qudeih, Bakir Fathi Qudeih, and Ismail Hasan Abu Rjeila.
Two children were injured in Gaza City after an Israeli airstrike hit home of al-Ghusein family.
Earlier, a man was injured as a result of an Israeli airstrike on home of Saadi Daloul in Salah al-Din Street in the central Gaza Strip.