Continued from page 1

But Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called the deadly school shelling “outrageous” and “unjustifiable,” and demanded an immediate humanitarian cease-fire.

“Nothing is more shameful than attacking sleeping children,” the U.N. chief said.

The White House also criticized the shelling of the U.N. school in Jebaliya.

“We are extremely concerned that thousands of internally displaced Palestinians who have been called on by the Israeli military to evacuate their homes are not safe in U.N. designated shelters in Gaza,” said Bernadette Meehan, a spokeswoman for the White House’s National Security Council.

Later on Wednesday, an Israeli airstrike hit a crowded shopping area in the Shijaiyah district in Gaza City, killing at least 16 people, including Palestinian video journalist Rami Rayan, who was wearing a press vest at the time, and wounding more than 200 people, al-Kidra said.

Thursday marked a third day of particularly heavy Israeli air and artillery attacks, at a time when Egyptian cease-fire efforts appeared to have stalled. Israeli media said late Wednesday that Israel’s Security Cabinet decided to press forward with the operation.

Egyptian officials, meanwhile, met with an Israeli envoy about Israel’s conditions for a cease-fire, including disarming Hamas, according to a high-ranking Egyptian security official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not allowed to discuss the delicate diplomatic efforts.

Hamas has said it will only halt fire once it receives guarantees that a Gaza border blockade by Israel and Egypt — tightened after the Islamic militant group seized power in Gaza in 2007 — will be lifted.

Israel says it wants to decimate Hamas‘ rocket-launching capability, diminish its weapons arsenal and demolish the tunnels. It has launched more than 4,000 strikes against Hamas-linked targets, including rocket launchers and mosques where it says weapons were being stored.

Israeli strikes have also hit dozens of homes. Mahmoud Abu Rahma of the Palestinian human rights group Al Mezan said nearly half of the Palestinians killed so far died in their homes.

Israeli officials have said Hamas uses Gaza’s civilians as human shields by firing rockets from crowded neighborhoods. Palestinian militants have fired more than 2,600 rockets at Israel over the past three weeks.

However, Pierre Kraehenbuehl, chief of the U.N. aid agency for Palestinian refugees, said Israel must try harder to ensure that civilians are not hurt, especially in Gaza, where 1.7 million people are squeezed into a small coastal territory. His agency has opened 80 of its schools to more than 200,000 Palestinians fleeing the violence.

“What maybe the world forgets … is that the people of Gaza have nowhere to go,” he said. “So when the fighting starts and they move, it is not as if they can cross a border to somewhere.”

___

Barzak reported from Gaza City, Gaza Strip.