GAZA CITY — The Israeli military said Thursday that it is calling up 16,000 additional reservists, bolstering its forces for its fight against Hamas in Gaza after a request for more ammunition from the United States.
The addition brings the total number of reservists Israel has called up since the beginning of the operation against Hamas to 86,000, a military spokeswoman said.
The conflict has killed more than 1,300 people in Gaza, most of them civilians. Fifty-six Israeli soldiers have been killed.
After more than three weeks of fighting, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Thursday that Israel would complete its goal of destroying Hamas’ network of tunnels with or without a cease-fire. Netanyahu said this is just the first phase of the demilitarization of Gaza.
While U.S. officials have called on Israel to do more to protect civilians, the United States has agreed to Israel’s request to resupply it with several types of ammunition, a U.S. defense official told CNN on condition of anonymity. It’s not an emergency sale, the official said.
Among the items being bought are 120mm mortar rounds and 40mm ammunition for grenade launchers, the official said. Those will come from a stockpile the United States keeps in Israel, which is worth more than $1 billion.
Shells land near U.N. school
Meanwhile, a number of shells fell Thursday next to a U.N. school housing displaced residents — a day after another school-turned-shelter was hit by artillery killing more than a dozen people.
“The school itself was not targeted, it was nearby the school,” Adnan Abu Hasna, a spokesman for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), said about the Thursday incident.
No one was killed inside the school — the Beit Lahiya School for Girls, he said. Eight people were slightly injured.
But Gaza health workers are struggling to deal with the relentless stream of dead and wounded.
“The hospitals in Gaza yesterday had a very difficult time, all the hospital morgues were flooding with dead bodies, and the injured were laying on hospital floors because of the lack of hospital beds,” said Ashraf al-Qidra, spokesman for the Gaza Ministry of Health.
‘Children killed in their sleep’
On Wednesday, artillery fire struck a different school — the Jabalya Elementary Girls School — that was housing more than 3,000 displaced Palestinians.
The United Nations blamed Israel for the attack. And the Palestinian Health Ministry said 20 were killed.
“Children killed in their sleep; this is an affront to all of us, a source of universal shame,” Pierre Krahenbuhl, head of the U.N. agency for Palestinians. “Today the world stands disgraced.”
Israel said a group of militants fired at Israeli soldiers from the vicinity, and the soldiers “responded by firing at the origin of the fire,” a military spokesman said.
“If our forces were involved in a firefight, it’s because Hamas has decided that it’s open season on the U.N.,” Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev said.
A ‘likely war crime’?
Wednesday’s attack was the sixth on a U.N.-run school since the conflict began on July 8.
Amnesty International, noting that UNRWA shared its coordinates with the Israeli army 17 times, said the Jabalya attack was a “likely war crime.”
“If the strike on this school was the result of Israeli artillery fire it would constitute an indiscriminate attack and a likely war crime,” said Philip Luther, Director of the Middle East and North Africa Programme at Amnesty International. “Artillery should never be used against targets in crowded civilian areas and its use in such a manner would never be considered a ‘surgical’ strike.”
Israel has said errant Hamas rocket fire is responsible for some of the attacks in Gaza.
At the same time Wednesday, back-to-back attacks on a market in northern Gaza killed 17 people, the Gaza health ministry said.
Video shot by the Gaza-based al-Manara media agency show ambulances racing to the scene after the first strike. Seconds later, the second attack sends people diving for cover. The video shows people on the ground, screaming and groaning. Some of the bodies are limbless, others blown apart.
Calls for civilian protection
The conflict in Gaza is more than three weeks old now and has left 1,373 people dead and more than 7,000 wounded, according to the Gaza Ministry of Health. About 70% to 80% of the fatalities are Palestinian civilians, the U.N. estimates.
On the Israeli side, 56 soldiers have died, as well as three civilians.
The violence between Israel’s military and Palestinian militants is playing out against a backdrop of failed humanitarian cease-fire attempts, with militants firing rockets from Gaza into Israel and Israelis responding with airstrikes.
On Wednesday, Israel authorized a four-hour “humanitarian window” in Gaza, but it lasted nowhere near that long.
A large part of the criticism has been leveled at Israel and its airstrikes, which have bombarded Gaza.
Chile, Peru, Brazil and Ecuador have pulled their ambassadors out of Tel Aviv to protest the Israeli offensive.
Israel, in turn, has accused Hamas of hiding weapons, including rockets, in schools and launching attacks from near shelters.
While saying Israel has a right to defend itself, White House Deputy Press Secretary Eric Schultz said, “We’ve also been very clear that Israel needs to do more to live up to its own standards to limit civilian casualties.”
It was a sentiment echoed by U.S. State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf.
“Hamas is taking steps here that put civilians at risk. But we do believe the Israelis need to do more,” she said.
‘This is a disaster’
The incessant attacks and counterattacks are taking a terrible toll on Gazans.
More than 219,000 Palestinians are packed into 86 shelters across Gaza, the U.N. said. That equals about 12% of all of Gaza’s population.
A strike Tuesday severely damaged Gaza’s only power plant, forcing residents to depend almost entirely on small generators for electricty.
Israel said it did not target the plant, and that a Hamas rocket may have been to blame.
Clean water is inaccessible for most. And some 3,600 people have lost their homes.
“We cannot supply electricity” for hospitals, sewage treatment or domestic use, said Fathi al-Sheikh Khalil, deputy chairman of the Palestinian Energy Natural Resources Authority in Gaza. “This is a disaster.”
The Israeli foreign ministry said it sent 43 trucks carrying 750 tons of food, medicine and supplies to Gaza on Wednesday. It also said it sent fuel.