On the deaths in Jabalya

Reports are still coming in about the terrible loss of life among Palestinian civilians taking shelter in a UN school in Gaza.

We may never know precisely what happened, and as is usual in such events, people will decide what they want to believe. But The Jerusalem Post reports:

At least 30 people were reportedly killed and 53 wounded in an explosion in a UN-run school in the town of Jabalya in the northern Gaza Strip, according to Palestinians. The IDF issued a statement saying the school grounds were used by terrorists to fire mortar shells at the troops.

The infantrymen returned mortar shell fire into the school grounds, the army said. Defense officials told The Associated Press that booby-trapped bombs in the school triggered the secondary explosions which killed scores of Palestinians on the site.

The IDF released a video taken by a UAV last week showing terrorists firing mortar shells from right outside the school.

“Hamas has in the past fired at Israel and at troops from inside schools, cynically using civilians, as is proven by UAV footage,” the army said.

Now it’s entirely possible this is a self-serving version of events. But it’s certainly no secret that Hamas routinely launches mortars and rockets from heavily populated areas and that it relishes the propaganda value of mass casualties among Palestinian civilians.

And even if you hold Israel responsible for the current conflict, try to look at things from an Israeli point of view. Do you really think an Israeli commander said, “There are Palestinian civilians sheltering in that building. Let’s blast them”? If you believe Israelis are capable of such things, there’s not much point in engaging with you. It’s about as credible as a belief that the Israelis intentionally fired on and killed their own soldiers. But keep in mind, the current conflict is in large part a propaganda war; do you think Israel would deliberately choose to hand a propaganda victory to Hamas?

Update: From the usually balanced Associated Press:

The Israeli army said its soldiers came under fire from militants hiding in the school and responded. It accused Gaza’s Hamas rulers of “cynically” using civilians as human shields. Residents confirmed the account, saying militants were seen staging attacks from the area.

(Hat tip: Mar)

David T adds:

Until May of this year, at another United Nations school, this was going on:

By day, Awad al-Qiq was a respected science teacher and headmaster at a United Nations school in the Gaza Strip. By night, Palestinian militants say, he built rockets for Islamic Jihad.

The Israeli air strike that killed the 33-year-old last week also laid bare his apparent double life and embarrassed a U.N. agency which has long had to rebuff Israeli accusations that it has aided and abetted guerrillas fighting the Jewish state.

In interviews with Reuters, students and colleagues, as well as U.N. officials, denied any knowledge of Qiq’s work with explosives. And his family denied he had any militant links at all, despite a profusion of Islamic Jihad posters at his home.

But militant leaders allied to the enclave’s ruling Hamas group hailed him as a martyr who led Islamic Jihad’s “engineering unit” — its bomb makers. They fired a salvo of improvised rockets into Israel in response to his death.

Qiq’s body was wrapped in an Islamic Jihad flag at his funeral, pictorial posters in his honour still bedeck his family home this week, and a handwritten notice posted on the metal gate at the entrance to the school declared that Qiq, “the chief leader of the engineering unit”, would now find “paradise”.

That poster was removed soon after Reuters visited the Rafah Prep Boys School, run by the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian refugees. Staff there said on Monday that UNRWA officials had told them not to discuss Qiq’s activities.

No one from the United Nations attended the funeral or has paid their respects to the family, relatives said, adding that Qiq’s widow and five children had heard nothing about a pension.

Further update: Mark T writes in the comments:

Within the last hour, a Palestinian spokesman (whose name escapes me – perhaps someone else who was watching can enlighten me) was asked by BBC News 24 why Hamas was firing from within a school compound. Did they not have some responsibilty to not do so?

The frankly absurd response – that Gaza is the most densely populated place on Earth and that sometimes there is nowhere else to fire rockets from – went, bafflingly, unchallenged.

So it appears Hamas is not even bothering to deny their crime.

(Update: Mark T writes that the Palestinian interviewed by BBC News 24 was Manuel Hassassian, the Palestinian Authority delegate to the UK.)

Additional update: The IDF reports that “amongst the dead at the Jabalya school were Hamas terror operatives and a mortar battery cell who were firing on IDF forces in the area. Hamas operatives Imad Abu Askhar and Hassan Abu Askhar were amongst terrorists that were identified to be killed.”

(Hat tip: pisa)