Palestinians mourn the loss of their loved ones at a UN-school housing displacing people that was hit during Israeli bombardment in Nuseirat, in the central Gaza Strip, on June 6, 2024. Image Credit: AFP

NUSEIRAT, Palestinian Territories: Faisal Thari’s quest for safety led him to seek refuge in a UN school, only to face the horror of its bombing Thursday. Shocked, he deplored the civilian toll of the Gaza war.

“The strike landed on civilians and poor people who had nothing to do with anything,” Thari told AFP.

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“Why? What have we done for them to bomb us?” he said, standing in front of concrete hanging from the classroom ceiling by a thread of rebar.

“We’ve fled from place to place. There is no safe place. No UNRWA school is safe. No tent is safe. There is no safe place,” he said, referring to the UN agency for Palestinian refugees.

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With railings dangling from the facade and blood still pooled in a corner, the distinct UN blue on the walls was a sign the building had served as a school for Nuseirat refugee camp.

The Israeli army said it had “conducted a precision intelligence-based strike on a Hamas compound in an UNRWA school in Nuseirat” at around 2am on Thursday.

The Al Aqsa Martyrs hospital in nearby Deir Al Balah said the strike killed 37 people and wounded 60, with many of them in critical condition.

“We are in a very tragic situation because there is no space inside the hospital to receive more casualties,” said its director, doctor Khalil al-Dakran.

Thousands sheltering

The hospital had been running at four times its clinical capacity, he said, and the number of deaths may increase in coming hours because of its overstretched services.

“Another horrific day in Gaza. Another UNRWA school turned shelter attacked”, UNRWA commissioner-general Philippe Lazzarini wrote on social media platform X.

Lazzarini said 6,000 people had been sheltering on the school’s grounds when it was struck.

“Claims that armed groups may have been inside the shelter are shocking”, he said, adding his agency was unable to verify them.

An injured being treated. Image Credit: Reuters

The UNRWA chief said the agency had given the coordinates of the facility to Israel but it was still hit.

On the ground, an AFP journalist saw dozens of people crying amid bodies.

Distraught adults stood around a dead child laid on a blood-stained stretcher.

A woman held the child’s hand as the emergency blanket was wrapped around his body, a shiny substitute for a shroud.

People dressed in UNRWA vests inspected damage to the building.

In a classroom where dozens of people had been staying, chunks of concrete were strewn across the floor, along with mattresses and Batman-themed sheets.

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The UN-run school that was hit by Israel. Image Credit: AFP

‘We were sleeping’

“We were sleeping and at 2 o’clock we woke up to the ceiling, walls, and windows falling on us,” Salman al-Maqdama told AFP, having just returned from the hospital with his head wrapped in gauze and numerous scars on his face.

Ziad Al Qatrawi, also displaced, said those killed were civilians who had fled “their homes in the north and came here to hide, to live a safe life”.

Laundry was still hanging on the remaining intact railings behind Gamal Fnouna, a displaced Gazan.

“Where do we go after eight months? They (the Israeli army) have chased us around and told us to come to these places which are supposed to be safe.”

Many UNRWA buildings throughout the Gaza Strip were turned into shelters for civilians, due to the space they offer and the perception that UN buildings would be safer.

UNRWA says most of its schools housing displaced have been damaged by the war, some having been razed to the ground.

The Israeli army regularly accuses armed Palestinian militants of hiding in these buildings, but the Islamist Palestinian movement Hamas denies the charges.

A doctor at the Al Aqsa hospital said that six more people were killed and many more wounded in a separate Israeli strike overnight on a house in Nuseirat.