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US 'appalled' by latest UN school shelling in Gaza

Relatives mourn during the funeral of at least 9 members of the same family who died after their house was hit by an Israeli air strike on August 3, 2014 in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip
Relatives mourn during the funeral of at least 9 members of the same family who died after their house was hit by an Israeli air strike on August 3, 2014 in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip

The United States lashed out at the "disgraceful" shelling of a United Nations school packed with refugees in Gaza on Sunday, demanding Israel do more to avoid civilian casualties.

In one of the most strongly-worded statements yet from Washington since the conflict began nearly a month ago, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the United States was "appalled" by the attack on the school in Rafah.

At least 10 people were killed in the shelling, the third time in 10 days that a UN school has been hit in fighting amid growing international outrage over the civilian death toll in the nearly month-old conflict.

Thousands of Palestinians had sought refuge at the school from fierce fighting between Israeli forces and the Palestinian enclave's Islamist rulers Hamas.

"The United States is appalled by today’s disgraceful shelling outside an UNRWA school in Rafah sheltering some 3,000 displaced persons, in which at least 10 more Palestinian civilians were tragically killed," Psaki said in a statement.

"We once again stress that Israel must do more to meet its own standards and avoid civilian casualties."

She noted that the United Nations had "repeatedly" communicated to the Israeli Defense Forces the coordinates of the school and the world body's other facilities.

Israel's military confirmed it had fired on a target "in the vicinity" of the school.

"The IDF targeted three PIJ (Islamic Jihad) terrorists on board a motorcycle in the vicinity of an UNRWA school in Rafah," an army statement said.

"The IDF is reviewing the consequences of this strike."

- 'Militant presence no excuse' -

Psaki's statement said the presence of suspected militants near the facility could not excuse the attack, however.

"The suspicion that militants are operating nearby does not justify strikes that put at risk the lives of so many innocent civilians," she said.

"We call for a full and prompt investigation of this incident as well as the recent shelling of other UNRWA schools."

Valerie Jarrett, a senior advisor to President Barack Obama, said on CBS television's "Face the Nation" program that while Israel was entitled to defend itself, civilian casualties were unacceptable.

"Israel absolutely has the right to defend itself and we are Israel's staunchest ally," Jarrett said.

"But you also can't condone the killing of all of these innocent children. And so, we're very concerned, we're monitoring the situation closely," Jarrett added, referring to an earlier attack on another school that left 16 people dead.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon decried the latest shelling as "a moral outrage and a criminal act."

"This madness must stop," Ban said through his spokesman, decrying what he termed "yet another gross violation of international humanitarian law."

"This attack, along with other breaches of international law, must be swiftly investigated and those responsible held accountable. It is a moral outrage and a criminal act," he said.

Ban repeated his demand for an immediate ceasefire, saying he was "profoundly dismayed over the appalling escalation of violence and loss of hundreds of Palestinian civilian life since the breach of the humanitarian ceasefire on 1 August."

"The resurgence in fighting has only exacerbated the man-made humanitarian and health crisis wreaking havoc in Gaza," he added.