A Palestinian man carries a child, allegedly wounded in an Israeli strike on a compound housing a U.N. school in Beit Hanoun, in the northern Gaza Strip, into the emergency room of the Kamal Adwan hospital in Beit Lahiya, Thursday. / Majed Hamdan, AP
Israel acknowledged Sunday that its military fired a mortar shell into the courtyard of a U.N. school in Gaza but says its attack wasn't responsible for the 16 deaths at the school.
Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, an Israeli army spokesman, said Sunday that a military probe shows that "a single errant mortar landed in the courtyard." He said the shell was not fired intentionally.
Palestinians contend three Israeli tank shells struck the U.N. school in Beit Hanoun in Gaza last Thursday, killing 16 people and wounding dozens.
The school was being used as a refuge for Palestinians forced from their homes by deadly fighting between Hamas militants and the Israeli military.
U.N. officials called for an investigation, saying their own efforts were cut short by incoming fire.
"It is important in a case like this where a U.N. school in which hundreds of people took refuge is hit in this way, that there should be full transparency and accountability," Chris Gunness of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, told Associated Press.
Gunness, spokesman for the agency, said the school was clearly marked as a U.N. shelter, and that the Israeli military was aware of its location. He said U.N. officials made telephoned the Israeli army requesting a pause for the evacuation of civilians.
However, Lerner, the Israeli army spokesman, said it is "extremely unlikely that anybody was killed as a result of this mortar." He said aerial images released Sunday showed the courtyard was empty at the time the mortar was fired.
AP said by the time its photographer arrived at the school, the wounded had been evacuated. Its photos showed blood on the edges of the courtyard and belongings strewn about.
Lerner said it was possible shell fragments may have injured some but suggested that wounded people were brought to the school after being injured.
Saed al-Saoudi, the commander of the Civil Defense in Gaza, said "all the testimonies of the wounded, witnesses, paramedics and doctors confirm that the Israeli shells are the cause of this massacre."
Contributing: Associated Press
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