IDF says terrorists hiding in UN school killed in strike, local officials report 23 women and children dead

An Israeli strike Thursday morning took out Hamas and Islamic Jihad terrorists hiding at a United Nations school for displaced Palestinians in central Gaza, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) say, while local officials say that the strike killed more than 30 people, including 23 women and children.

Israel said it was targeting a Hamas compound inside the school containing 20 to 30 fighters and that many of them had been killed.

Witnesses and hospital officials said the predawn strike hit the al-Sardi School, run by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA). The school was filled with Palestinians who had fled Israeli offensives and bombardment in northern Gaza, they said.

“Eliminated: several Hamas and Islamic Jihad terrorists who embedded themselves inside of an @UNRWA (United Nations Agency for Palestine Refugees) school,” an IDF post to X reads.

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“IAF fighter jets conducted a precise strike on a Hamas compound embedded inside the school in the area of Nuseirat. These terrorists belonged to the Nukhba Forces and participated in the Oct. 7 massacre.” 

That attack killed around 1,200 Israelis while some 240 people were taken captive, sparking Israel’s current offensive against Hamas and its partners. 

The IDF said a number of steps were taken before Thursday’s strike to reduce the risk of harming uninvolved civilians during the strike, “including conducting aerial surveillance, and additional intelligence information.”

The post was accompanied by an aerial photograph pinpointing rooms on two upper floors of the building, which the IDF said were the “locations of the terrorists.”

“We’re very confident in the intelligence,” military spokesperson Lt. Col. Peter Lerner said at a briefing with reporters, accusing Hamas and Islamic Jihad fighters of deliberately using U.N. facilities as operational bases.

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He said 20 to 30 fighters were located in the compound and many of them had been killed but had no precise details as intelligence assessments were being carried out. “I’m not aware of any civilian casualties, and I’d be very, very cautious of accepting anything that Hamas puts out,” he said.

Ayman Rashed, a man displaced from Gaza City who was sheltering at the school, said the missiles hit classrooms on the second and third floors where families were sheltering. He said he helped carry out five dead, including an old man and two children, one with his head shattered open. “It was dark, with no electricity, and we struggled to get out the victims,” Rashed said.

Footage showed bodies wrapped in blankets or plastic bags being laid out in lines in the courtyard of the hospital.

Casualties from the school strike arrived at the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital in nearby Deir al-Balah. 

The Associated Press reported that hospital records and their reporter at the hospital recorded at least 33 dead from the strike, including 14 children and nine women. 

Juliette Touma, a spokesperson for the UNRWA told Reuters that the building may have been hit several times. Touma and a medical source told the news outlet said that 40 people had been killed, including 14 children and nine women.

Another strike on a house overnight killed six people, according to reports. Both strikes occurred in Nuseirat.

UNRWA schools across Gaza have functioned as shelters since the start of the war, which has driven most of the territory’s population of 2.3 million Palestinians from their homes.

Israel announced a new military campaign in central Gaza on Wednesday as it battles fighters relying on hit-and-run insurgency tactics. It said there will be no halt to fighting during ceasefire talks, which have intensified since President Biden outlined a proposal on Friday.

Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced on Wednesday that the Jewish state is “prepared for very intense action in the north” in response to the Lebanese terrorist movement Hezbollah’s continued rocket and drone attacks into northern Israel.

Fox News’ Benjamin Weinthal as well as The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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