Thousands Mourn 47 Dead

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Tens of thousands of Palestinians yesterday attended a funeral procession for 47 defenceless civilians who were killed on Tuesday when Israeli artillery shelled a UN school in the northern Gaza Strip town of Jabaliya.

The bodies of children, women, and elderly people were among the dead.

The mourners walked from Kamal Udwan Hospital to the Al-Fakhora School, the scene of Tuesday’s shelling. Angry mourners condemned Israeli aggression in Gaza, and called for Israeli politicians to be tried for war crimes.

The UN says some 350 Palestinians had taken shelter in the school compound, one of hundreds operated by UNWRA, the UN’s agency for international refugees.

UNRWA director of operations in Gaza, John Ging yesterday insisted ‘categorically’ that there ‘was no militant activity in that school at the time of that tragedy’.

He added: ‘We have established beyond any doubt that the school was not being used by any militants.’

Twenty-four Palestinians were confirmed dead yesterday morning in an Israeli bombing targeting the northern Gaza Strip.

Medical sources at Abu Yousif An-Najjar Hospital in Rafah confirmed the death of 60-year-old Salim Ermeilat from shrapnel from an Israeli air strike.

Another air strike against At-Tawam area in Gaza City critically injured one Palestinian.

Seven of the dead were killed in morning air strikes on the Sheikh Radwan and Zaitoun neighbourhoods of Gaza City.

An Israeli air strike hit a playground near At-Taqwa Mosque in the Sheikh Radwan neighbourhood killing four and injuring eight.

Another air strike hit a residential house in the Zaitoun neighbourhood in eastern Gaza City killing three and injuring dozens.

Israel put military operations on hold from 1pm to 4pm (1100 GMT and 1400 GMT), it said to allow in humanitarian aid.

Palestinian officials in Gaza said they had been informed by Israel that it would stop its attacks during that time period to allow shops to open and for funerals to take place.

However, UNWRA spokesman Christopher Gunness said: ‘When you are trying to feed 750,000 people a day in Gaza as we are, you need a permanent ceasefire. You can’t do that in a three-hour window.’

Meanwhile there has been discussion about a proposal by French President Sarkozy for a ceasefire, put forward by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

Mubarak presented the proposal in a brief statement after talks with Sarkozy in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.

He said: Israel and the Palestinian factions should accept an immediate ceasefire for a limited period, which would allow safe passages to open for humanitarian aid to Gaza and give Egypt time to continue its efforts for a comprehensive and lasting ceasefire.

Egypt would invite both Israel and the Palestinian side to an urgent meeting to reach arrangements and guarantees to ensure that the current escalation does not recur and deal with the causes, including protecting the border, reopening the crossing points and lifting the blockade.

Egypt would again invite the Palestinian Authority and all Palestinian factions to respond to Egyptian efforts to achieve national reconciliation.

The proposal has been backed by the US.

Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev said it would consider a ceasefire that ended Hamas rocket attacks and placed an arms embargo on Hamas.

Hamas said that there were positive points in the proposals and that there would be talks in the next couple of days.