GAZA CITY (AFP) -- The UN expressed outrage after another deadly strike on one of its schools Sunday as Israel began pulling some troops from Gaza in a widely-acknowledged step towards unilateral withdrawal.
The strike killed 10 people at a school in the southern city of Rafah where around 3,000 Palestinians who had been made homeless by the violence had been sheltering, in the third such incident within 10 days.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon strongly condemned the shelling, calling it "a moral outrage and a criminal act."
"This madness must stop," he said.
The strike on the school came as Palestinian factions gathered for truce talks with Egypt in Cairo and world powers voiced increasingly urgent calls for the warring sides to lay down their weapons.
"The bloodshed needs to stop," said a statement signed by the European Union and the European Commission presidents on behalf of the bloc's 28 member states.
"We deplore the terrible loss of lives, including innocent women and children," it said, condemning the "intolerable violence" being suffered by Gaza residents.
Britain's Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond demanded an unconditional ceasefire to resolve the "intolerable" situation for civilians. And in Cairo, China's top diplomat Wang Yi demanded both sides "immediately" halt their fire.
But there was little respite on the ground, where Israeli attacks left more than 71 people dead in Rafah alone Sunday in a fresh wave of bloodshed which sent the death toll soaring over 1,800.
Over 200 people were killed in Rafah in just 26 hours, medics said.Hospitals in crisis
At the school, an AFP correspondent witnessed scenes of chaos, with rescuers trying to evacuate the wounded any way they could, while adults were seen sprinting frantically away through pools of blood, young children clutched in their arms.
With hospitals and clinics under increasing pressure from the bombardment and the soaring numbers of casualties, Gaza's medical services have reached the brink of collapse, the UN warned.
With Rafah's main Najjar hospital closed after being hit in a recent strike, only two clinics were functioning, with medics rapidly running out of space to store the growing pile of bodies.
In one, an AFP correspondent witnessed the bodies of four small children packed into an ice cream freezer.
Outside in the garden, doctors had set up a temporary emergency room, receiving dozens of wounded, some of whom had to lie down on the ground because of a lack of beds, he said.
There was only one working operating surgery, with the single bed occupied by two wounded people, he said.
Intensive international attempts to broker a diplomatic end to the fighting between Israel and Hamas have so far proved fruitless but the efforts are continuing with a Palestinian delegation in Cairo for talks with US and Egyptian officials.
But Israel did not send anyone to the talks after ministers at the security cabinet decided not to send a representative.