The United States issued its strongest condemnations to date of Israel’s offensive in Gaza, denouncing a "horrifying" and "disgraceful" strike on a United Nations school that killed at least 10 people.
Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., issued a statement late Sunday calling for a "full and prompt investigation" by Israel into a series of deadly strikes that have hit U.N.-run schools.
The Red Crescent charity told The Associated Press the latest deadly attack in the southern town of Rafah came as people were in line to get food from aid workers. The school was sheltering more than 3,000 people displaced from their homes.
An earlier statement released by the State Department noted that the school had been designated a protected location. "The coordinates of the school, like all UN facilities in Gaza, have been repeatedly communicated to the Israel Defense Forces," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Sunday. "The suspicion that militants are operating nearby does not justify strikes that put at risk the lives of so many innocent civilians."
In language that was rare in its directness and severity, Psaki added that the U.S. was "appalled" by the "disgraceful" strike. She called on Israel to "do more to meet its own standards and avoid civilian casualties." Power's statement highlighted the "perilous situation faced by civilians in Gaza"
The U.S. gives around $3.1 billion to Israel each year, mostly in military aid. On Friday, the U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved a bill to give Israel $225 million to restock its Iron Dome missile defense system. President Barack Obama cited Iron Dome as a concrete way the U.S. is helping "make sure that Israel is able to protect its citizens."
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Sunday depicted the attack near the Rafah school as both "a moral outrage and a criminal act" and called for those responsible for the "gross violation of international humanitarian law" to be held accountable. "This madness must stop," he added.
The U.N. said Israel has hit seven of its shelters with strikes during the four-week offensive. However, at least three caches of rockets have been uncovered in vacant U.N. schools. When asked about Sunday's strike, the Israeli military told the AP it had targeted three wanted militants on a motorcycle in the vicinity and was "reviewing the consequences of this strike."
Robert Turner, director of operations for the U.N. Palestinian refugee agency in Gaza, said the attack had killed at least one worker. "The locations of all these installations have been passed to the Israeli military multiple times," he added. "They know where these shelters are. How this continues to happen, I have no idea."
Israel says it makes every effort to avoid non-combatant casualties and that Hamas invites these by launching rockets from, and entrenching gunmen inside, congested civilian areas.
"Hamas has an interest in Gaza residents suffering, thinking that the world will blame Israel for their suffering," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office said in a statement on Monday.
Israel also said it would hold most of its fire in Gaza, other than in the Rafah area, for a seven-hour window on Monday.
More than 1,800 Palestinians have died during the Gaza war, which is now in its fourth week. In addition, 63 Israeli soldiers and three civilians have been killed.
On Wednesday, British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond warned that longtime ally Israel was “undermining” support from the West as civilian casualties mount in the Gaza Strip.
“Israelis have to understand that while they are defending their security in seeking to root out these rocket launchers and deal with the attack tunnels, they are also undermining the support for Israel that exists in the West,” he told the BBC. Hammond also called the situation in Gaza a “catastrophe.”
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.