West Bank violence erupts as Gaza conflict rages

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Friday, July 25, 2014 - 8:39am

The Israeli military shot and killed two Palestinian men and wounded scores of others in the West Bank as residents rallied in support of Hamas and its ongoing conflict with the Israeli military in Gaza.

More than 15,000 people were marching when Israeli security forces opened fire Thursday evening, Palestinian lawmaker Mustafa Barghouti said.

Protesters were "throwing rocks, firebombs and fireworks" at the troops, The Jerusalem Post reported. The newspaper, which put the size of the demonstration at 10,000 people, said 13 Israeli police officers were injured.

Ramallah's health minister said 185 wounded Palestinians were brought in for treatment.

U.N. shelter hit

The demonstration erupted only hours after a U.N. shelter in Gaza was hit, killing 16 people and wounding a couple hundred more -- most of them women and children.

The raging bloodshed left U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon exasperated.

He condemned the violence. "This is wrong," he said.

"I am telling to the parties -- both Israelis and Hamas, Palestinians -- that it is morally wrong to kill your own people," Ban said. The "whole world has been watching, is watching with great concern. You must stop fighting and enter into dialogue."

But little of that was going on, only finger pointing.

A Palestinian government statement condemned the incident, calling it "Israeli brutal aggression that targeted" Gaza's displaced. It demanded an end to the "Israeli war machine."

Still, it's unclear who was behind the incident.

While Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, an Israeli military spokesman, told The Washington Post on Thursday night that "there was a possibility" shells from Israeli forces struck the shelter, the Israeli military also said it could have been a rocket fired from Gaza that fell short of Israel and exploded. An investigation was underway.

"From initial inquiries done about the incident, during the intense fighting in the area, militants opened fire at ... soldiers from the school area," a military statement said. "In order to eliminate the threat posed to their lives, they responded with fire toward the origins of the shooting."

Still talking

Diplomatic efforts continued into early Friday.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has been active, his shuttle diplomacy taking him from Cairo to Jerusalem, the Palestinian territories and back.

Asked Thursday about a possible cease-fire, he balked.

"I'm going to have a lot to say (Friday) probably, so I'm going to wait until then," Kerry said. "We still have more work to do. I certainly have more work to do tonight."

The diplomatic effort wasn't solely limited to the United States, as several Middle Eastern nations worked to try to win Hamas' agreement for an Egyptian-led cease-fire. Hamas said Turkey and Kuwait were also involved.

Not the first U.N. shelter to be hit

Thursday's hit at the U.N. shelter is just the latest violence that has raged for more than three weeks between Israel and Hamas in Gaza. Hundreds have died, including many children.

Thursday's strike marks the third time a U.N. school serving as a shelter has been hit.

The first occurred Tuesday in eastern Gaza, where about 300 people were staying, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East said. The second occurred Wednesday in central Gaza at a shelter were about 1,500 were staying. There were no fatalities and few injuries in those incidents.

At least 826 people have been killed and more than 5,273 wounded since the start of an Israeli operation on Gaza, the Gaza Health Ministry said Friday.

An Israeli military representative said Friday that another soldier had been killed in Gaza, bringing the total number of Israelis killed to 36 -- 33 soldiers and three civilians.

On the 18th day of the military operation in Gaza, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised his country's military.

"The IDF (Israel Defense Forces) has struck a deep and significant blow at the infrastructures of terrorism -- at the terrorists themselves, at rockets, at command centers, at production facilities and at many other targets," he said Friday at the start of a Cabinet meeting.

Fighting in the area

Before the U.N. shelter was hit Thursday, the Israeli military said the area surrounding the school in Beit Hanoun had turned into a battlefield, and it had asked that the facility be evacuated. A four-hour window was given, the military said.

"I have no idea what they're talking about," UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness said Friday. "We spent hours attempting to organize a humanitarian cease-fire and pause. We're very clear the IDF did not respond to our desperate pleas. If the IDF had responded, this carnage would never have happened."

The Israeli military accused Hamas militants of refusing to let people at the shelter leave, saying they were being used as human shields.

"We have a situation here where we are fighting a terrorist organization that is abusing and exploiting the civilian component," Lerner, the Israeli military spokesman, told CNN. "This is a tragedy. This is a clear tragedy."

Apparently, neither Israel nor Hamas can claim the moral high ground in this conflict.

"Both sides have violated international human rights, humanitarian law and human rights law," U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said. "These are really shocking incidents."

"The secretary-general is right. This kind of killing must stop immediately."

Footage from the school showed pools of blood, and images from hospitals showed absolute chaos. There were so many victims than many gurneys included two wounded children.

One father carried his small daughter into a hospital. There wasn't much he could do but try to comfort his little girl as she cried and begged for him not to leave her.

In another area, a mortician wrapped up the body of a 1-year-old girl who was killed.

All the while, people wandered through the halls, trying desperately to find where their loved ones had been taken.

A CNN crew that visited the school three hours after the hit discovered an inch-deep hole in the concrete in the courtyard where people were killed and injured. It appeared that shrapnel struck people within a 30-meter radius. Walls were hit as high as about 8 meters above the ground.

CNN personnel didn't see the remnants of any rocket or missile.

Some witnesses told CNN there were three to four explosions.

It is unclear how many people were in the shelter, but U.N. schools can typically hold up to 1,500 people.

Some flights to Israel resume

On Thursday, Delta Air Lines joined Air Canada and United Airlines in resuming flights to Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv, airline spokesman Morgan Durrant said. It had been a day and a half since the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration imposed the prohibition of flights to the city because of security concerns.

Lufthansa Group has canceled all Lufthansa, Germanwings, Austrian Airlines, Swiss and Brussels Airlines flights flying to and from Tel Aviv through Friday. Lufthansa said in a statement that it "acknowledges the considerable efforts" Israel has made to protect the airport using its "Iron Dome" -- a system that targets incoming rockets and fires an interceptor missile to destroy them in the air.

When Lufthansa is assured that protection can be "verifiably guaranteed," it will resume flights.

The canceling of flights has caused some controversy, which continued Thursday with CNN's Wolf Blitzer asking Israeli Finance Minister Yair Lapid about it.

The FAA's ban was "a major setback to Israel," Blitzer said.

"Yes it was, and it was wrong," Lapid answered.

"It was a win for Hamas, right?" Blitzer said.

Yair responded by saying that Los Angeles International Airport was "10 times" more dangerous that Ben Gurion International, though he acknowledges that a rocket had landed about a mile from the airport.

"It's totally safe to fly to Israel," he said, "and I recommend it, by the way, to everyone who wants to come in."

CNN's Karl Penhaul reported from Gaza, and Ed Payne wrote from Atlanta. CNN's Ashley Fantz, Richard Roth, Ben Wedeman, Ian Lee, Ben Brumfield, Josh Levs, Katia Hetter, Steve Almasy, Tal Heinrich, Ali Younes and Tim Lister contributed to this report.  

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