Aaron Schachter: Where can we go? That's a question Palestinian civilians in Gaza have been asking for weeks now as the conflict between Israel and Hamas has rained bombs and death all around their crowded neighborhoods. Thousands have sought safety in schools turned into shelters by the United Nations. But today, evidence that even those shelters are not protected from the violence. Palestinian officials say at least 13 people were killed when a shell struck a school in northern Gaza. Reporter Derek Stoffel is in Gaza City. He says the details on this story are still murky.
Derek Stoffel: United Nations says this was a school that had been turned into a shelter, some 800 people there. Early reports from the UN's agency that deals with Palestinian refugees, it's called UNRA, is that, yes, it was Israeli shells that hit the school this afternoon. But the Israeli Defense Force is saying that they've raised the possibility that Hamas rockets fired from Gaza could have fallen short and hit the school. Then there's also a comment from an Israeli spokesperson saying that they gave the instructions to people at the UN agency to get people out of the area, that there was a warning. The UN is saying "Well, that's not exactly the case." So there's a lot of confusion, different stories about what happened but at the end of the day - I'm just back from the hospital here in Gaza City where the wounded were taken and there's terrible scenes of people coming in, bloodied children and women and the UN says mainly women and children were those injured and killed here. So a very, very sad situation where, once again, it seems that wherever the strikes came from, that children and women are ending up in the thick of this.
Schachter: As you say, this situation is pretty murky but this is not the first time that people at UN schools or facilities have been killed or injured. Is there any indication of why that's happening?
Stoffel: This is the fourth time in the last three days, according to the UN, that their schools that are now being used as shelters have come under fire by the Israelis. It comes down to the fact that the Israeli military says that in many of these cases they are targeting areas that Hamas and other militants are using to launch rockets or command control centers. We heard about a hospital also in northern Gaza in Beit Hanoun that was struck by the Israelis over the last couple of days. Israel says it was hit because it was a command and control center for Hamas. They gave ample warning according to the military and that's why it was hit. But it is leading to so much anger in Gaza. I was out earlier today in Shaja'ia, that's the area that was hit hard by the Israelis on Sunday and the few people who were brave enough to go back to pick up belongings from their house say even if there was one or two Hamas militants in this neighborhood, does that justify taking out entire city blocks?
Schachter: More broadly, what's the Israeli military saying about the civilian death toll now in Gaza?
Stoffel: It continues to say that it does not target civilians. We heard that again from the military - I ran into Israel's justice minister the other day and I put that question to her in the face of mounting international criticism and the response from the Israelis continues to be that Hamas is a terrorist group in the eyes of the Israeli government and it is putting people in harm's way by placing rocket launchers and weapons caches near or in the middle of residential areas.
Schachter: Finally, there is talk, as you know, of a ceasefire. John Kerry has been in the region trying to negotiate some kind of deal. The people that you've been speaking with, are they at all hopeful that the violence could end soon?
Stoffel: No one is hopeful. I ask every person I speak to about that and there's just so little hope after - it's now into its third week here and everyone is affected by these strikes, lost someone or someone injured. One woman I spoke to today, she said "How can we hold out hope that there can be a ceasefire when they're too busy trying to stay safe in their apartments?" There's no where for people to go and there really is no sense that there should be a ceasefire because, at the same time, they support Hamas, they say Hamas is actually fighting this resistance and they support that and they don't want this to end without actually winning something. In the last couple of days, we've been hearing about this Israeli blockade and people I've been speaking to today say "Well, Hamas should press the Israelis to get this blockade ended because there is so much hardship and strife because of it."
Schachter: The CBC's Derek Stoffel on the line there from Gaza City. Thanks Derek.
Stoffel: You're welcome.