Middle East

Gaza conflict: 'Israeli market strike kills 17'

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Media captionMost Gazans were unaware of a temporary truce, Martin Patience reports

At least 17 people have been killed and 160 wounded in an Israeli strike that hit a fruit and vegetable market near Gaza City, Palestinian officials say.

Hundreds of people were shopping in the market in Shejaiya, a spokesman for the Gaza health ministry said.

The attack came during a four-hour truce called by the Israeli military. Hamas, which controls Gaza, had rejected the truce as meaningless.

Meanwhile, Israel said three more of its soldiers had been killed in Gaza.

Palestinian doctors also said that another Israeli air strike after the partial humanitarian ceasefire was announced had killed seven people in Khan Younis.

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Image caption Hundreds of people were said to have been out shopping
Image copyright EPA
Image caption An injured Israeli soldier is airlifted to Soroka Hospital in Beersheba

Earlier, the UN said Israel had attacked a UN-run school housing refugees in Gaza, despite warnings that civilians were there. Fifteen people were killed and dozens hurt.

The White House condemned the attack and said it was "extremely concerned" that Palestinians were not safe at shelters despite being told to evacuate their homes by Israel's army.

More than 1,300 Palestinians and 58 Israelis have now died in the conflict. Most of the Palestinian deaths have been of civilians.

Fifty-six Israeli soldiers have been killed along with two civilians. A Thai worker in Israel has also died.

The Israeli military said that the three soldiers killed on Wednesday died in a booby-trapped building.

'Media exploitation'

Correspondents say many people in Gaza were unaware the partial ceasefire had been called.

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Media captionChris Morris reports from the school that was hit in Gaza: ''This is a terrible scene''
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Media captionPeter Lerner of the Israel Defense Forces: ''We do not target UN facilities''

Witnesses at the scene of the market strike in Shejaiya spoke of smoke billowing over the site, with ambulances racing victims to hospital.

A journalist who worked for a local news agency was reported to have been killed.

One witness, Salim Qadoum, told Associated Press: "The area now is like a bloodbath, everyone is wounded or killed. People lost their limbs and were screaming for help. It's a massacre."

The Palestinian al-Aqsa satellite TV channel quoted Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhum as saying that the market attack required "an earth-shattering response".

The Israeli military had said the ceasefire would last between 15:00 (12:00 GMT) and 19:00.

However, it had warned that the truce would only apply to areas where Israeli soldiers were not currently operating, and it told residents not to return to areas they had previously been asked to evacuate.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption A mosque in the southern Gaza Strip collapses after an explosion
Image copyright AP
Image caption An Israeli plane drops leaflets to warn residents in Gaza City

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri had rejected the truce as meaningless.

"The lull which Israel announced is media exploitation and has no value because it excludes the volatile areas along the border, and we won't be able to get the wounded out from those areas," he said in a statement.

Sirens continued to sound in southern Israel after the ceasefire, to warn of militant rocket attacks.

Israel said more than 50 rockets were fired from Gaza on Wednesday.

The UN had earlier expressed outrage at the attack on the school in the Jabaliya refugee camp.

Spokesman Chris Gunness told the BBC that Israel had been told 17 times that the school was housing the displaced, saying the attack caused "universal shame".

Secretary General Ban Ki-moon later said the attack was "reprehensible, unjustifiable, and demands accountability and justice".

The Israeli military said in a statement that its "initial inquiry suggests militants fired mortars... from the vicinity of the school in Jabaliya".

It said soldiers had "responded by firing towards the origin of fire".

Longest conflict

Israel launched its offensive in Gaza after a surge in rocket fire from the territory.

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Media captionChris Gunness: "Children were killed as they slept next to their parents"
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Media captionThe BBC's Orla Guerin was given access by the Israeli military to a tunnel they say was used by Palestinian militants

It says one of its main objectives is to destroy tunnels used by militants to infiltrate Israel.

Army spokesman Sami Turgeman said on Wednesday that this mission "will be completed within a number of days".

Hamas says it will not stop fighting until a blockade, maintained by both Israel and Egypt, is lifted.

The current conflict, now in its 23rd day, is the longest between Israel and militants from Gaza.

A 2012 offensive lasted for eight days, and the 2008 conflict went on for 22 days.

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