Gaza Resident Describes Situation Violence continued in the Gaza Strip today as reports surfaced of an Israeli strike on a school that killed more than 30 people. Ahmed Abu Hamda, who is a Gaza resident and a news producer for many news networks, including NPR, says everyone is panicked and trying to stay find a safe place to stay.
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Gaza Resident Describes Situation

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Gaza Resident Describes Situation

Gaza Resident Describes Situation

Gaza Resident Describes Situation

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Violence continued in the Gaza Strip today as reports surfaced of an Israeli strike on a school that killed more than 30 people. Ahmed Abu Hamda, who is a Gaza resident and a news producer for many news networks, including NPR, says everyone is panicked and trying to stay find a safe place to stay.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is All Things Considered. I'm Melissa Block.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris. As the Israeli ground attack on Gaza continues, so do concerns about the impact on the people who live in the territory. Israel said it has agreed to set up a humanitarian corridor to deliver vital supplies to Gaza.

BLOCK: More than a week ago, we heard about the situation in Gaza from a news producer who works with NPR and other foreign news organizations. Then, Ahmed Abu Hamda spoke about constant Israeli bombing and fears of a ground attack. Well, we reached him again today after at least 30 people were killed in a United Nations school where they were taking shelter. The U.N. is calling for an investigation. The Israeli military issued a statement saying they were responding to mortar fire from militants hiding in the school. Ahmed Abu Hamda works with reporters. He's also been affected personally by the fighting. He and his family left their home in Gaza, fearing it was not in a safe area. He's now at his uncle's home near the beach refugee camp.

Mr. AHMED ABU HAMDA (Palestinian News Producer): The people now - because now they have been under attack for a long time, they're out of food, out of supplies. Plus, I saw, for the last two, three days - and I am myself one of them - a lot of people evacuating from their houses, going other relative's houses, especially the people who are living on the hot spots or hot lines where there are clashes and so on. So, everyone is really panicking from that and trying to stay in a safe place.

BLOCK: How do you try to figure out what a safe place might be?

Mr. HAMDA: Let me be more honest. There isn't a safe place in Gaza now. But there is what's called less dangerous, less risky place for the people.

BLOCK: The claim from the Israeli military has been that Hamas uses the population within Gaza basically as human shields, that they infiltrate what would be civilian sites. And that's why some of these places have come under attack. What do you think about that?

Mr. HAMDA: I think this is totally wrong. It's a war media. It's an advertising for themselves. Why? Because UNRWA School has been targeted by the Israeli fighters.

BLOCK: This would be the United Nations school that was targeted.

Mr. HAMDA: Exactly, exactly. And innocent people, most of them are wounded and killed. There are no fighters in the UNRWA schools. I challenge them if they have - they say that even they have on tube - that they shoot each rocket and they have it on video, on the YouTube, why they shot that rocket or whom they were targeting. I bet them, if they can't approve that if there was a militant or a rocket launched from that school.

BLOCK: You mentioned earlier that there's no place that is safe right now in Gaza.

Mr. HAMDA: Exactly.

BLOCK: How do you make the calculation, then, of where you can try to go? You went to the hospital yesterday. You got to the refugee camp today.

Mr. HAMDA: I'll tell you something, my dear. Now in my flat, I'm not safe, OK? If I go out, I'm not safe. I will choose the less threat. For example, I had to go to the Shifa Hospital while I knew it might be risky. But why I went there? I am a Palestinian citizen who live in Gaza Strip. In such a crisis, I need money to bring food for my family. I have to risk my life to provide this food for my wife, for my family. This is how we are living here.

BLOCK: When you were at the hospital yesterday, who were the wounded and the killed whom you saw there?

Mr. HAMDA: Honestly, most of what I saw were kids, women, some young guys. But I stayed there for almost like two and a half hours, I didn't see one single militant.

BLOCK: You saw young men. You did not see Hamas militants. How do you know when a young man is or is not a Hamas militant?

Mr. HAMDA: OK, when someone, Hamas militant, is targeted, where do you think he'll be targeted? Now they are on alert, on war alert. Each Hamas member will be wearing his weapons, will be wearing his war uniform. It will be very clear. But what I see, a mother crying next to a young guy, OK? So it's very, very clear, very obvious. You can recognize that. A fighter is a fighter.

BLOCK: Well, Mr. Hamda, thanks very much for talking with us again.

Mr. HAMDA: You're welcome again, my dear. You're welcome. Thank you, bye-bye.

BLOCK: Ahmed Abu Hamda works as a news producer for NPR and other news organizations. He spoke with us from Gaza.

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U.N.-Run School In Gaza Hit By Israeli Fire; 40 Dead

NPR's Mike Shuster reports on Gaza, on 'Morning Edition'

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Israeli mortar fire on Tuesday hit near a United Nations school in Gaza, killing dozens of civilians who had apparently taken shelter there, officials said.

Palestinian medical workers and witnesses said at least 40 people were dead, many of them children.

The attack occurred about 10 yards outside the school in northern Gaza. It was the second Israeli attack to strike a U.N. school within hours. In an airstrike earlier, three Palestinians were killed at another school run by the U.N. Relief and Works Agency.

In both cases, the schools had been used as shelters for people displaced by Israel's offensive against Hamas militants.

The Israeli military said its forces fired on the school in response to mortar fire from within the U.N. premises.

"Initial checks ... show that from inside the school mortars were fired at Israeli forces," a spokesman said. "In response, the forces fired a number of mortar rounds into the area."

As many as 600 people have been killed and 3,000 wounded in the 11-day operation, many of them civilians, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross.

The ICRC said people were trapped and unable to flee to areas of safety. The aid organization has appealed to Israel and Hamas fighters to refrain from targeting civilians and civilian infrastructure, which it said is prohibited under international law.

A top U.N. humanitarian official has also condemned the violence and demanded an investigation.

Israel has made no comment on the school attacks, but in the past it has accused Hamas — a militant group backed by Iran and Syria — of using schools, mosques and residential areas for cover.

The schools were hit on a day of heavy clashes on the outskirts of Gaza City between Israeli troops and Palestinian militants that left dozens of people dead.

Four Israeli soldiers were among those killed on Tuesday when they were hit by "friendly fire," the Associated Press reported. Also on Tuesday, a Hamas rocket hit a house in Gadera, east of Ashdod, far inside Israel. No one was seriously hurt.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was to meet her Arab counterparts and consult with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in New York, where she will also attend a U.N. Security Council meeting to try to work out a cease-fire agreement.

The Bush administration has stopped short of calling for an immediate cease-fire, arguing that a truce would need to end Hamas' ability to fire rockets from Gaza into Israel.

The White House has joined European leaders in calling for an end to arms smuggling into Gaza through through tunnels from Egypt.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said Tuesday he was "hopeful" that the basis on which an immediate cease-fire could be found.

"It obviously depends on what we do on the crossings, what we do on the tunnels, what we do about the supply and trafficking in arms and what security we can give to both the Palestinian people and the Israeli people," he told reporters.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she is open to international steps to stop the smuggling of weapons into Gaza, which she said was key to establishing a lasting cease-fire.

In a statement issued by her press office on Tuesday, Merkel said she had spoken to President Bush and Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan about Gaza.

Israel launched its offensive on Dec. 27, saying it sought to halt repeated Palestinian rocket attacks on its southern towns. After a weeklong air campaign, Israeli ground forces invaded Gaza over the weekend. About 150 Palestinian civilians and hundreds more Hamas fighters have been killed in the conflict, according to U.N. figures. Nine Israelis have died since the operation began.

The rising civilian death toll and friendly fire incidents underscore the dangers of combat in the sprawling, densely populated, built-up areas of Gaza.

The death toll has drawn international condemnation and raised concerns of a looming humanitarian disaster. Many Gazans are without electricity or running water, thousands have been displaced from their homes and residents' food supplies are running low.

Israel says it won't stop the assault until its southern towns are freed of the threat of Palestinian rocket fire and it receives international guarantees that Hamas will not restock its weapons stockpile. Israel blames Hamas for the civilian casualties, saying the group intentionally seeks cover in crowded residential areas.

Israeli forces have cut the main Gaza highway in several places, splitting the territory in two along a north-south axis and surrounding Gaza City, which has a population of some 400,000 people.

Israel also has taken over high-rise buildings in Gaza City and destroyed dozens of smuggling tunnels — Hamas' main lifeline — along the Egyptian border.

From NPR staff and wire reports