Israeli tank fire kills 42 at U.N. school: medics

Israeli tank fire kills 42 at U.N. school: medics

GAZA (Reuters) - Israeli tank shells killed more than 40 Palestinians on Tuesday at a U.N. school where civilians had taken shelter, medical officials said, in carnage likely to boost international pressure on Israel to halt a Gaza offensive.

An Israeli army spokeswoman said she was looking into information on the incident at al-Fakhora school in Jabalya refugee camp, on the fourth day of a ground assault launched after a week of air strikes failed to end Hamas rocket salvoes.

People cut down by shrapnel lay in pools of blood in the street. Witnesses said two Israeli tanks shells exploded outside the school, killing at least 42 civilians and wounding dozens -- Palestinians who had taken refuge there and residents of nearby buildings.

A senior U.N. official in Gaza said 350 people had been sheltering at the school and the United Nations regularly gave the Israeli army exact geographical coordinates of its facilities to try to keep them safe from attack.

Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, asked by reporters about the deaths, said she was "not familiar" with the incident.

The deaths in Gaza, home to 1.5 million people, raised to 77 the number of Palestinian civilians killed on Tuesday alone, according to medical officials.

The spike in civilian casualties could prove to be a turning point in Israel's "Operation Cast Lead," launched on December 27 with the declared aim of removing the Hamas rocket threat.

The killing of dozens of unarmed Lebanese in Israel's bombing in the village of Qana in the 2006 Lebanon war drained foreign support for its campaign against Hezbollah guerrillas. Israel said it had not known civilians were in the area.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said the United States "would like an immediate ceasefire" but one that is "durable, sustainable and not time-limited" -- comments that stopped short of a formal demand for a truce now.

International efforts already under way to end the fighting have focused on securing a deal that would meet Israel's demand that Hamas, an Islamist group in charge of the Gaza Strip, could not rearm once hostilities end.

According to the Palestinian Health Ministry in the Gaza Strip, at least 631 Palestinians have been killed and more than 2,700 wounded since Israel began its offensive.

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