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Gazans return in fear to UN schools as conflict erupts anew

Aug. 9, 2014 10:32 A.M. (Updated: Aug. 10, 2014 1:59 P.M.)
GAZA CITY (AFP) -- Cradling his baby daughter, Saeed Masri took flight Friday from renewed Israeli bombardment of Gaza with little faith that even a UN facility can protect his family.

Three hours after a temporary ceasefire between Israel and Hamas ended, a missile hit the roof of a building opposite the apartment in Jabaliya where he was staying with relatives after his own neighborhood was shelled.

"We were in Beit Hanoun and were there during the war and the shelling, so after that I came to stay here with my cousins," Masri said as he trudged down the street with his family in tow.

It was only a small rocket fired by a drone, intended as a warning for civilians to leave, residents said.

It shattered the roof of the building and left no casualties, but an ambulance was parked around the corner in case it was followed by more attacks.

Masri heeded the message immediately, packing some food into plastic bags, gathering his wife and five children and setting off down the street to find safety.

His eyes darted as he spoke, looking back at the building just hit by the strike, his daughter silent in his arms and with the four other children milling around his legs.

He planned to take shelter in a UN-run school to keep his family safe, but he had little hope it would guarantee protection.

"The schools aren't safe either, they hit the schools," he said.

At least 153 schools in Gaza, including 90 run by the UN, have been damaged by Israeli air strikes or shelling during the conflict, the UN children's fund UNICEF says.

Three deadly strikes on UN schools in the Gaza Strip since Israel launched its assault on the territory on July 8 stirred international fury.

"Why is the whole world sleeping, why?" asked Masri quietly. "Children and women are being targeted, and the world is sleeping."

Still scared

As talks in Cairo aimed at reaching a lasting truce failed to achieve concrete results, Palestinian militants fired two rockets at southern Israel before the 72-hour ceasefire ended at 8 a.m. on Friday.

Dozens more rocket attacks followed.

Israel retaliated, saying it was targeting terror sites in the coastal enclave where Hamas is the de facto ruler.

Palestinian emergency services said one of the strikes killed a 10-year-old boy.

The rocket fire prompted Gazans who had gone home during the ceasefire to return to the hospitals and schools to which some 200,000 people had fled to before the three-day reprieve.

In Beit Hanoun, a steady stream of families trudged along the road to a school.

Others riding donkey carts and cars packed with mattresses and clothes rattled past, just half an hour after the ceasefire ended.

Um Abdullah, 50, who did not give her real name, said she was reluctantly returning to the school she and her family had sheltered in.

"We were waiting for a second truce, but it did not come," she sighed. "We waited until the last minute, until 8 a.m., but it did not come."

She had only been able to pack a small bag of clothes and another with some flat bread and tomatoes before fleeing again.

She would now stay in the school until a lasting truce was reached.

In the al-Tuffah neighborhood of Gaza City, families trickled back to another UN-run school after receiving news of the failed truce.

Hundreds of refugees from some of the worst-damaged areas have sheltered in the classrooms overlooking a central courtyard.

Laundry was hanging from the rooms overlooking the courtyard, where there was a strong smell of sweat and waste.

In the courtyard, Abdullah Abdullah, 33, had just arrived back after spending the truce at home.

Like Masri, Abdullah was worried for his wife and children.

"I'm afraid because the schools were targeted, because young people died, women and children," he said.

"We're all scared, I'm scared, my children are scared, my wife is scared."

Ma'an staff contributed to this report.
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