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Israeli Airstrike on Gaza School Kills 40 Amid Ceasefire Negotiations

On Thursday, Israel conducted a targeted airstrike on a school in Gaza, claiming it was aimed at up to 30 Hamas fighters inside. A Hamas official, however, reported that 40 people, including women and children, were killed as they sought shelter in the UN-run facility.

Video footage showed Palestinians removing bodies from the site following the attack, which occurred amid sensitive ceasefire negotiations that could involve the release of prisoners held by both Hamas and Israel.

The United States, along with other countries, issued a joint statement on Thursday urging Israel and Hamas to make the necessary compromises to finalize a ceasefire deal after eight months of conflict in the Gaza Strip.

Ismail Al-Thawabta, director of the Hamas-run government media office, denied Israel’s claim that the UN school in Nuseirat, central Gaza, housed a Hamas command post. Thawabta accused Israel of fabricating stories to justify the attack on displaced civilians.

The Israeli military asserted that its fighter jets executed a “precise strike” and shared satellite photos highlighting two sections of the building they claimed were used by fighters. Military spokesperson Lt Col Peter Lerner expressed confidence in the intelligence, accusing Hamas and Islamic Jihad fighters of using UN facilities as operational bases. He estimated that 20-30 fighters were in the compound, many of whom were killed, though detailed assessments were ongoing.

Survivor Huda Abu Dhaher described waking to the sound of rockets and finding remains scattered inside and outside the school yard. She recounted the death of her 10-year-old nephew, who lost his leg and arm, and described injuries sustained by other family members.

At the time of the attack, the school, operated by the UN Palestinian refugee agency (UNRWA), was sheltering 6,000 displaced people, according to UNRWA chief Philippe Lazzarini. He reported at least 35 fatalities and numerous injuries, expressing shock at claims that armed groups were inside the shelter but unable to verify these claims. He condemned the use of UN buildings for military purposes as a blatant violation of International Humanitarian Law.

Thawabta and a medical source reported 40 deaths, including 14 children and nine women.

Israel launched a new military campaign in central Gaza on Wednesday, targeting fighters using hit-and-run tactics. The Israeli government insists there will be no pause in fighting during the ceasefire talks, which have intensified following a proposal from US President Joe Biden.

In a joint statement, the White House, along with Argentina, Austria, Brazil, Britain, Canada, and others, urged both Israel and Hamas to make final compromises to secure a deal. While Hamas seeks a permanent end to the conflict, Israel remains focused on destroying the group.

CIA Director William Burns met with senior officials from mediators Qatar and Egypt on Wednesday in Doha to discuss the ceasefire plan. Despite ongoing discussions, two Egyptian security sources indicated that no breakthrough had been achieved by Thursday. President Biden has previously announced imminent ceasefires, but only one week-long truce was achieved in November.

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