The U.S. and the United Nations condemned the shelling of a U.N. school in Gaza that killed 16 people Wednesday, as the Israeli military continued to pound targets in the war with Hamas and new polls gave President Obama poor marks for his handling of the crisis.
The civilians were killed when four artillery shells struck a compound before dawn in a refugee camp where more than 3,000 Palestinians were seeking shelter. Among the casualties were children and U.N. humanitarian workers.
The Obama administration didn’t specifically blame Israeli forces for the attack, but U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon said “all available evidence points to Israeli artillery as the cause” of the assault, which also injured more than 100 people.
“Nothing is more shameful than attacking sleeping children,” Mr. Ban said.
Israel’s military said it returned fire after mortar rounds were launched at Israeli soldiers from the vicinity of the school.
In the Obama administration’s most blunt statement of the three-week-old war, the White House said it is “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.”
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The White House also condemned “those responsible for hiding weapons in United Nations facilities in Gaza” — a tactic employed by Hamas — and said the violence highlighted the need for an immediate cease-fire.
U.N. Relief and Works Agency chief Pierre Krahenbuhl said the school’s precise location and the fact that it was sheltering thousands of displaced people had been communicated to the Israeli military 17 times, with the last notification just hours before the fatal shelling.
White House spokesman Eric Schultz said Israel has the “right and obligation” to defend itself, “but we’ve also very clear that Israel needs to do more to live up to its own standards to limit the civilian casualties.”
Israel’s security cabinet decided to continue its offensive in the enclave and there was no sign of a halt to a 23-day conflict in which 1,326 people, mostly civilians, have died.
Israel offered a four-hour “humanitarian window” truce Wednesday in Gaza, but the lull in fighting didn’t last that long. Militants fired rockets from Gaza into Israel during the brief cease-fire, and Israeli forces responded with airstrikes.
When Israel made the offer, it said the truce would not apply to areas where its soldiers were already operating. At least three more Israeli soldiers were killed Wednesday, bringing the total to 56 dead since the ground war began July 8.
More than 1,300 Palestinians have been killed since the conflict began, the Palestinian Ministry of Health in Gaza said. Three civilians also have been killed in Israel.
As the fighting rages on and Secretary of State John F. Kerry has failed in efforts to broker a cease-fire, Mr. Obama is being panned in public-opinion surveys for his handling of the crisis. A Washington Post-ABC News poll released Wednesday showed 39 percent approve and 52 percent disapprove of his management of the emergency, with 33 percent saying they strongly disapprove.
A Gallup poll earlier this month showed Mr. Obama’s approval rating among Jews has dropped to 55 percent, 7 points lower than his presidency’s average and 22 percent lower than when he took office.
Mr. Obama didn’t address the Middle East in his public appearances Wednesday. In a speech in Kansas City, he criticized congressional Republicans for “hatin’ all the time” and for blocking his economic agenda.
At the start of the president’s speech at the city’s Uptown Theater, a woman in the audience interrupted Mr. Obama by calling out, “Jesus is the God of Israel. He is fully God.”
“I believe in God,” Mr. Obama replied. “Thanks for the prayer.”
Police escorted the woman out.
⦁ This article is based in part on wire-service reports.