Israel: In-Depth Look at Gaza School Attacks

45 People, Including 17 Children, Killed in 3 Attacks
Human Rights Watch, September 11, 2014

(Jerusalem) – Three Israeli attacks that damaged Gaza schools housing displaced people caused numerous civilian casualties in violation of the laws of war, Human Rights Watch said today. In the first in-depth documentation of the violations, Human Rights Watch investigated the three attacks, which occurred on July 24 and 30, and August 3, 2014, and killed 45 people, including 17 children.

“The Israeli military carried out attacks on or near three well-marked schools where it knew hundreds of people were taking shelter, killing and wounding scores of civilians,” said Fred Abrahams, special adviser at Human Rights Watch. “Israel has offered no convincing explanation for these attacks on schools where people had gone for protection and the resulting carnage.”

Two of the three attacks Human Rights Watch investigated – in Beit Hanoun and Jabalya – did not appear to target a military objective or were otherwise unlawfully indiscriminate. The third attack in Rafah was unlawfully disproportionate if not otherwise indiscriminate. Unlawful attacks carried out willfully – that is, deliberately or recklessly – are war crimes.

The laws of war obligate Israel to investigate possible war crimes credibly and to punish those responsible appropriately.The Israeli military said that it has established a “Fact-Finding Assessments Committee” to “examine exceptional incidents” during the latest fighting, and that it had opened five criminal investigations, including apparently one into the July 24 attack discussed below. Israel has a long record of failing to undertake credible investigations into alleged war crimes, Human Rights Watch said.

In a briefing to media, the Israeli military showed photographs of what it said were rockets hidden in and fired from school compounds. None of the photographs were from the three UN-run schools that Human Rights Watch investigated where many civilians died.

In the first attack, at about 3 p.m. on July 24, apparent Israeli mortar shells struck a coeducational elementary school in Beit Hanoun run by the United Nations, killing 13 people, including six children, and wounding dozens of others.

Witnesses told Human Rights Watch that days of fighting in the area had caused most of the people staying at the school to leave, but several hundred remained. Most were awaiting transport to a safer area when two munitions, probably 81mm or 120mm mortar shells, hit inside the school compound.

Jamal Abu `Owda, 58, said he was sitting outside a classroom when one of the munitions struck. “Most people got killed in the middle of the courtyard,” he said. There were “shredded bodies, a mix of everything, boys, men, girls, women, a mix of different faces and bodies.” Witnesses said a second shell hit the courtyard shortly after the first, followed in quick succession by two more just outside the school compound.

The Israeli military alleged that Hamas fighters had “operated adjacent to” the school. After coming under fire with anti-tank missiles, soldiers responded by “firing several mortars in their direction.” The military said a “single errant mortar” hit the school courtyard, which was “completely empty” – a claim disputed by seven witnesses who separately spoke to Human Rights Watch.

Witnesses described at least four shells striking in and around the compound within a few minutes – a precision that would be extremely unlikely for errant Palestinian munitions. And there were no reports of Israeli troops near the school that might have led the Palestinians to fire mortar rounds there.

On July 30, at least 10 Israeli munitions hit in and around the UN-run girls’ elementary school in Jabalya, then sheltering more than 3,200 people. The shelling killed 20 people, including three children. An inspection of the damage and photographs of munition remnants found at the site suggest that Israel fired 155mm artillery rounds, including smoke, illumination, and standard high explosive shells, the last of which produces extensive blast and fragmentation damage.

Suleiman Hassan Abd el-Dayam, 24, who was staying at the school with his extended family, said three of his family members died and five were wounded in the attack. When he heard the first strike at about 2 a.m, he ran to the classroom where women and children were sleeping, and a second munition hit. “I saw that my wife had a head injury, so I carried her outside,” he said. “Then I looked for my aunt. I found her, and she was saying, ‘I can’t see!’ So I took her outside too. And my other cousin, Ibrahim, had his legs cut off.”

The Israeli military said that Palestinian fighters had fired mortars “from the vicinity” of the school, but provided no information to support that claim. In any event, the use of high-explosive, heavy-artillery shells so near a shelter filled with civilians constitutes an indiscriminate attack.

At about 10:45 a.m. on August 3, an apparent Israeli Spike guided missile hit directly outside a UN-run boys’ school in Rafah, killing 12 people, including 8 children, and wounding at least 25. About 3,000 people were taking shelter in the school at the time.

Witnesses told Human Rights Watch that many civilians, including children, were near the school’s front gate buying sweets when the missile struck directly across the street, about 10 meters away. The Israeli military said it had targeted three Islamic Jihad members on a motorcycle “near” the school, but provided no further information, including why it attacked the men in front of a school sheltering thousands of displaced people rather than before they arrived or after they drove away.


In addition to these three unlawful attacks, Israeli ground forces reportedly occupied at least one school in Gaza, the Beit Hanoun secondary school for boys, leaving behind bullet casings and rations.

National armed forces and armed groups should refrain from using schools for military purposes, Human Rights Watch said. Even if students aren’t there, using schools for military purposes makes them military objectives subject to attack.

In three unrelated cases, the UN reported that Palestinian armed groups had stored weapons in other schools that had closed for the summer and were not being used as shelters by civilians. By storing arms in those schools, the armed groups made those particular schools legitimate targets for Israeli attack and violated the immunity of UN facilities. There have been no allegations that the three schools that Human Rights Watch investigated were being used for military purposes.

All parties to the armed conflict in Gaza must take all necessary measures to minimize harm to the civilian population. The laws of war prohibit attacks that deliberately target civilians or civilian property; that do not target a specific military objective or are otherwise indiscriminate; or that cause civilian harm disproportionate to the anticipated military gain. Schools are presumptively civilian objects that may not be attacked unless they are being used for military purposes, such as a military headquarters or to store weapons.

The Israeli military informed Human Rights Watch that it had created a Fact-Finding Assessments Committee to “examine exceptional incidents” during the seven-week conflict, headed by Maj. Gen. Noam Tibon, commander of the Israel Defense Forces North Formation, and staffed by personnel who were not in the chain of command during the fighting. The military said 44 incidents had been referred to the committee as of September 10.

The Military Advocate General’s office announced on September 10 that it had opened criminal investigations into five incidents, including a July 24 attack on an UNRWA school that killed 15 people. The military said the attack was “in the vicinity of an UNRWA school in Khan Yunis” but Israeli media reported that the incident was the Beit Hanoun school. 

Previous inquiries by the Israeli military of alleged war crimes committed by its forces have not met international standards for credible, impartial and independent investigations, Human Rights Watch said.

The Commission of Inquiry recently appointed by the UN Human Rights Council should investigate the attacks striking schools that resulted in civilian deaths and make recommendations for follow-up by the Security Council.

Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas should also promptly ask the International Criminal Court to extend its jurisdiction to the West Bank and Gaza to allow prosecution of serious international crimes by both sides, Human Rights Watch said.

Israel and Palestinian groups may also be liable for damages caused to buildings used by the UN, including schools and other facilities providing shelter to displaced persons. Such buildings are protected by the 1946 Convention on the Privileges and the Immunities of the United Nations, to which Israel is a party.

After the 2008-09 fighting in Gaza, a UN board of inquiry held Israel, Hamas and other armed groups responsible for damages to UN premises. Israel paid US$10.5 million in damages to the UN.

Out of 2,131 Palestinians who died in the latest fighting, 501 were children, said the United Nations. About 70 percent of the children killed were under 12, according to the UN children’s agency, UNICEF.

“Israel should go beyond sweeping justifications and provide detailed explanations for its attacks in and around these three schools housing hundreds of displaced people,” Abrahams said. “And it should end its practice of impunity by punishing those who violate the laws of war.”


For detailed accounts of the three attacks on schools, please see below.

Detailed Accounts of Attacks on Three Schools

Human Rights Watch conducted field investigations in August into three attacks in which civilians sheltering at schools were killed and injured. On August 20, Human Rights Watch sent a series of detailed questions to the Israeli military about each of these attacks and its efforts to investigate them. The military responded on September 3 with no responses to the specific questions but with a general description of the Fact-Finding Assessments Committee the military has established to examine incidents during the recent fighting.

Beit Hanoun Elementary Co-ed School A & D, July 24

About 3 p.m. on July 24, at least four apparently Israeli munitions hit in and around the Beit Hanoun Elementary Co-ed School A & D, with two of them apparently landing in the school courtyard. The attack killed 13 people at the school, including six children, and wounded dozens of others.

The Israeli military denied responsibility for any civilian deaths in the school, saying that one “errant mortar” had hit the courtyard while it was empty. It also suggested that the school might have been hit by Palestinian rockets, saying that several rockets launched toward Israel that day had fallen short and landed in Beit Hanoun.

It is highly unlikely that at least four of the inaccurate, unguided rockets used by Palestinian armed groups hit in and around the school within a few minutes.

It is also unlikely that Palestinian armed groups would have targeted the area near the school with mortars when Israeli ground forces do not appear to have been in the immediate area at the time. On the contrary, Israel claimed that Palestinian forces were near the school at the time. It is similarly implausible that Palestinian mortar fire hit in and around the school at least four times by accident.

At the time of the attack, the school was the only shelter for displaced people in the town of Beit Hanoun, in the northern Gaza Strip. The school and Beit Hanoun Hospital were the only two inhabited buildings in the area, an aid worker told Human Rights Watch. The school was clearly marked with a UN flag. The UN said it had given the Israeli military its location coordinates 12 times, most recently at 10:56 a.m. on the day of the attack.

Human Rights Watch interviewed seven Gaza residents who were at the school when it was struck, as well as three others who had taken shelter there but left before the attack.

The school compound, which Human Rights Watch visited on August 12, 13, and 29, appears to have been hit at least twice during the attack: one munition struck the school’s paved courtyard and one hit a sandy part of the courtyard. Witnesses said they heard two other shells hit and explode just outside the school compound during the attack.

An inspection of the site and photographs of munition remnants found at the school suggest that Israeli forces fired 81mm or 120mm mortars at the school.

Two rooms in one of the school buildings were damaged by a later attack, in unclear circumstances, after the school had been fully evacuated.

People who were at the school told Human Rights Watch that up until a few days before the attack as many as 5,000 people had sought shelter in the compound. In mid-July, there was heavy Israeli shelling in Beit Hanoun. By July 21 the UN said it was no longer able to deliver supplies to the school.

After the UN stopped delivering supplies, people at the school started to leave for safer areas. On July 24 between 300 and 700 people remained. “I had to stay because there was no safe place,” said Jamal Abu `Owda, 58, who was there with his family. “I had nowhere to go, and I didn’t want to just go from one school to another.”

Witnesses staying in the school during the days before the attack told Human Rights Watch they could hear exchanges of gunfire between Israeli and Palestinian forces. While they could not identify the exact location of the fighting, they believed it was at least a few hundred meters away, and not in the school’s immediate vicinity. Local residents saw rockets launched out of Beit Hanoun toward Israel from an area that was more than half a kilometer away from the school. No one Human Rights Watch interviewed said they saw Palestinian fighters in or next to the school compound.

Israeli ground forces were apparently present to the north and east of the school in the days before and during the attack. Witnesses said they saw tanks on a hill to the north of the school that overlooks the compound. A second group of tanks was positioned about 500 meters east of the school, one witness said. In that area, Human Rights Watch observed tank tread-marks and empty boxes of 7.62mm ammunition, which is standard issue for mounted guns on Israeli tanks and armored personnel carriers. The tanks demonstrate the presence of Israeli troops in the vicinity who could have been the source of the mortar rounds.

On the morning of July 24, a local municipal official came to the school to say that buses were on their way to take people to another shelter. Families began to gather in the courtyard.

According to witnesses, local human rights groups, and the UN, the attack took place just before 3 p.m. Around 2:55 p.m., the UN said, the school compound was “struck by explosive projectiles, causing death and injuries to multiple displaced Palestinian civilians.”

A man who was present at the time, Mohammed Hamad, 24, told Human Rights Watch:

People gathered in the courtyard, in the corridor downstairs in the school building, and in front of the other [school] building. The buses hadn’t arrived. From between 2:30 and 3 p.m., I was in the corridor on the ground floor of this building, with my aunt, when the first shell hit in the middle of the courtyard. Women were killed immediately beside the metal fence of the school. Half a minute later a second shell hit under the palm tree in the corner. I didn’t see as many people killed there. Then three shells hit outside the school [compound].

Another man in the school, Ismail, who did not want to give his family name, said:

We were preparing to leave and I was getting the family ready. I was outside the gate waiting for a taxi to pick us up to go to Jabalya. Suddenly it happened, and I heard explosions. I went inside [the school yard] and saw lots of people injured and many others killed. I saw 10 children, and between 50 and 60 casualties. It was so horrific. I couldn’t believe it was real. Everyone was bleeding, bodies were full of shrapnel.

Jamal Abu `Owda said he was sitting outside a classroom facing the Erez border crossing with Israel to the north:

Most people got killed in the middle of the courtyard. We were hit directly [in the courtyard]. Suddenly there was lots of smoke and it was dusty and I thought I was dying because I was covered with blood, I thought I was injured. I looked around me and I saw shredded bodies, a mix of everything, boys, men, girls, women, a mix of different faces and bodies. It was chaos.…

My cousin, `Awad Abu `Owda, 45, had shrapnel hit his neck and throat, killing him instantly. His son, 17, a nice boy, had his arm cut off. His daughter, around 10, was seriously injured in the head.

Abu `Owda’s daughter-in-law, Rasha Abu `Owda, 30, who was more than 9 months pregnant, told Human Rights Watch she felt pain in her abdomen and was on her way to the bathroom when the attack began:

At the beginning I heard only one explosion. I was looking around checking on my kids. Seconds later the second one hit. I was looking for Jamal, my son, as he disappeared. I was standing in the corridor. It was such a relief to see him moving on the ground in the courtyard. Next to him was an injured man who had died instantly, and an injured boy.

The ambulances came 15 minutes later. They stopped by the gate but did not enter the school. They were throwing the [medical] equipment to us. My children were panicking and screaming. I was in great pain, I thought I was going to give birth. The family was scattered, I couldn’t find my mother-in-law, or my sister-in-law with her three daughters, but it turned out they had left with the ambulances.

My husband and I stayed. We wanted to leave but it was chaotic. We were covered in blood, my children and I. I saw a little girl thrown under a desk with no head. I also saw `Awad’s son who was crying over his father’s dead body with his own arm amputated.

After the attack, Abu `Owda and his family left for the UN-run school in Jabalya that was hit on July 30. The family later informed Human Rights Watch that Rasha Abu `Owda died in childbirth on August 24; her baby boy, Rakan, survived.

The Israeli military denied that it had caused any injuries or deaths at the school. A preliminary report by the military found that Palestinian fighters had “operated adjacent to the UNRWA school,” referring to the UN Relief and Works Agency, which provides aid to Palestinians and runs schools in Gaza. The fighters launched anti-tank missiles and Israeli forces responded by “firing several mortars in their direction.” A “single errant mortar” landed in the school courtyard when it was “completely empty,” the military said.

To support its claim, Israel released a video that it said was filmed on July 24. The clip shows one munition hitting what appears to be an empty courtyard of the school, but the time of the attack is not provided. A military spokesman said this was the only Israeli munition to hit the school that day, and the attack occurred between 2 and 4 p.m. Israel did not release any videos that showed Palestinian fighters operating adjacent to the school. On September 10, the military said it was opening a criminal investigation into the attack.

The accounts of the seven witnesses who independently spoke to Human Rights Watch contradict the Israeli military’s description of the video. All said that people were in and around the courtyard when the two munitions struck, and that many of the wounded people were hit there.

The Israeli military also said that on July 23 it asked the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to evacuate people sheltering at the school between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. on July 24 but “Hamas prevented civilians from evacuating the area during the window that the IDF [Israel Defense Forces] gave them.” Israel provided no basis for the allegation. The ICRC said it evacuated about 60 people from the school on July 23 during a lull in the fighting, but did not receive any requests to evacuate people on July 24. None of the witnesses interviewed said that Hamas had prevented anyone from leaving the area.

Human Rights Watch called on the Israeli military to release video footage from the incident beyond the 18-second segment of one mortar shell apparently hitting the courtyard.

Jabalya Elementary Girls School A & B, July 30

At about 4:40 a.m. on July 30, at least 10 Israeli munitions hit in and around a UN-run girls’ school in Jabalya, where more than 3,200 people had taken shelter. The attack killed 20 people, including 3 children, and wounded many more.

Some of the people at the school had been staying in the Beit Hanoun school that was hit on July 24 and had fled to the Jabalya school.

Human Rights Watch interviewed six people who were in the school compound at the time of the attack, four of them displaced persons and two of them shelter staff. They gave consistent accounts of the attack, and said there were no signs of Palestinian fighters or outgoing rocket fire in the area at the time.

Suleiman Hassan Abd el-Dayam, 24, was staying in the school with his wife, his sisters, and his sisters’ families. He said he and the other men were sleeping in the courtyard while women and children were sleeping in the classrooms. About 2 a.m. he went to the bathroom, a small building on the far side of the courtyard from the main school building. While he was there, he said, a small “warning missile,” which did not explode, hit the bathrooms section of the courtyard. The Israeli military has acknowledged firing small missiles without explosive warheads as a warning before an attack. Palestinian forces have no record of doing this. El-Dayam returned to the courtyard and took shelter in the school buildings. He went into one of the classrooms with his wife and children. Shortly before 5 a.m., he said, a second munition hit:

I was with my wife and sisters and her family, and we were taking cover under a table when the first shell [of the main attack] hit. My wife and cousins were all injured. At first we weren’t able to see, then I started carrying the wounded outside of the classroom and into the courtyard. Then I looked for my cousin Ibrahim [Abd el-Dayam, 25]. I couldn’t find him. Then I heard his little girl, Maysa, say, “I see my dad! I see my dad.” He was in pieces.

Abd el-Dayam said that three members of his family were killed and five were wounded. His wife, Samiya, 16, suffered head injuries. Samiya’s mother, Najah, was wounded in the stomach and eyes. Human Rights Watch saw both Samiya and Najah in al-Shifa Hospital. In addition, Najah’s husband, Jihad, and her son, Ibrahim, were both killed.

A man who was working at the school shelter and did not want his name published said the attack began at about 4:45 a.m. when munitions hit some houses near the school:

Then the shells hit us. At that point I couldn’t grasp what was happening, I lost my ability to understand what was going on. It was just panic and fear. The shelling continued for 3 to 5 minutes. There were lots of injured here, teenagers, children, women – they were hit directly by the glass from the windows and some shrapnel. Most of the injuries were in the heads and faces and one injury in the leg.

Three other people who were staying in the school, interviewed separately, provided consistent accounts of the attack.

A Human Rights Watch inspection of the school on August 13 found damage in and around the school, including to homes in front of and behind the school compound. At least one shell apparently hit the roof of a classroom on the second floor where women and children were sleeping. Another shell hit the courtyard.

Photographs of the remnants found at the site show 155mm artillery smoke and illumination shells, as well as fragments of high explosive shells. Only the IDF operates 155mm artillery systems and uses the ammunition for it.

An investigation of the attack by the New York Times concluded that Israel fired at least 10 artillery shells on and near the school. The determination was made based on an inspection of the damage, a preliminary UN review that collected 30 pieces of shrapnel, and interviews with two dozen witnesses.

The use of high explosive heavy artillery in a populated residential area, such as around the Jabalya school, is unlawful due to the weapon’s indiscriminate effect. High explosive 155mm artillery shells have an error radius of 25 meters. In addition, the weapon inflicts blast and fragmentation damage up to 300 meters from the site of impact.

The UN said it had told the Israeli military about the school’s location 17 times, including “just hours before the fatal shelling.” The school was also well marked with a UN flag.

The Israeli military said that Palestinian fighters were operating near the school but it has offered no information or evidence to support that claim. “Militants fired mortar shells at [Israeli] soldiers from the vicinity of the UNRWA school in Jabaliya,” a spokeswoman said. “In response, soldiers fired toward the origins of fire.”

Israel has not explained why, even if it were responding to militants’ mortar fire, it used a weapon as indiscriminate as a high-explosive heavy-artillery shell so near to a UN school housing displaced people.

Rafah Preparatory “A” Boys School, August 3

At about 10:45 a.m. on August 3, an Israeli munition, apparently a Spike missile perhaps launched from an aerial drone, hit across the street from the front gate of a UN-run boys’ school in Rafah, killing 12 people, including eight children, and wounding at least 30. About 3,000 people were taking shelter in the school at the time.

The UN said it had informed the Israeli military of the school’s location 33 times, including one hour before the deadly strike. “They know where these shelters are; how this continued to happen, I have no idea,” said Robert Turner, head of UNRWA in Gaza.

Human Rights Watch spoke to six people who were in the school compound at the time of the attack. They said that many people at the school, including children, had gathered near the front gate to buy sweets when the strike occurred. The single munition hit directly across the street from the open gate, about 10 meters away.

Moammar Shaqlaih, 32, was working as a volunteer at the school. He and other witnesses said that a volunteer and one of the school’s directors were having an argument at the gate just before the attack. Shaqlaih tried to help mediate and had turned back into the school courtyard when the munition struck:

I was 20 meters away from the explosion when it happened. I didn’t see it happen because my back was to the street. I ran toward the explosion, and I was completely shocked. Kids who had been buying ice cream were lying in the street, their bodies were bleeding everywhere. It was horrific. I could see brains coming out of their heads. Two girls were injured, they were just inside the school gate….

We brought wounded people inside the school and we were scared they would hit us again inside the school. I believe the casualties were between 25 and 30 people. I saw a girl about eight years old, her injuries were in the lower part of the body. She was shivering and shivering, and suddenly she died, like a chicken. There was an old man who I saw for years, Abu Harb, who sold ice cream in front of the school. His body was full of wounds, he died. We were not able to collect any shrapnel because it was all inside people’s bodies. They were shivering, twitching in a strange way, and then they passed away. I was horrified by the scene. I thought of my own children. I assure you that we were doing our usual routine inside the school. Nothing unusual happened that day, before the explosion.

Another 45-year-old volunteer at the school, who asked that his name not be published, told Human Rights Watch:

On the black day, I was at the gate of the school trying to resolve a dispute between one of the managers and a volunteer. Suddenly the sound of a drone became really loud – it was unusual and very aggravating. I looked up to the sky and we all stopped talking. I was still at the gate, when one of the displaced families asked me to get them another gallon of water. The families only get one gallon per day, and to get an extra gallon would be a big procedure, so I was just turning around to go talk to another supervisor inside the school. I was about 15 meters from the gate, in the middle of the courtyard, there’s a basic football [soccer] field there, a playground. That’s where I was when the explosion happened.

In the street, there were three people on a motorcycle. The motorcycle slowed down, exactly in front of the gate of the school, I could see it. The minute the cycle slowed down, the missile hit. I didn’t see anything suspicious about them. There was a big fire, lots of smoke. As usual there were ice cream sellers at the school gate, four or five carts are always there. The children always buy from them. As soon as the smoke cleared, I ran toward the street, but I was so nervous, I was not sure if there would be another strike. Everyone else was running the opposite way, into the school. I was in such confusion about whether to go forward or to run back.

I saw dead bodies all over the place, and wounded, mainly children, and the ice-cream sellers. One of the ice-cream sellers, Abu Harb, his body took the most of the shrapnel. He was an older man. He was always there with his cart. There were two guys killed on the motorcycle and the third one was taken away by a car immediately – I don’t know where he went.

A third volunteer, Azhar Odwan, 23, herself displaced from her home in Rafah, said she was going downstairs in the school building when the attack took place:

I started to work as a volunteer because I felt a need for more women volunteers. The women sheltering inside the school need to be able to talk to women, not only men. We had finished cleaning the upper floors of the school that day, and we were going downstairs, when suddenly we were shaken by the explosion. The playground is always full of people, especially kids. Given that it’s summer in Gaza, and the humidity, people always find that the best place to relax at that time of day is under the trees by the fence of the school, near the school gate.

I was horrified when I saw what had happened. I tried to give first aid to some of the injured. Most of the injuries I saw were in the upper part of the body and the abdomen. I treated a child who had been asleep under the window. He had a hole in his chest with a lot of blackness on the inside. Like it was burned.

An 11-year-old girl said her 9-year-old brother had left the school building to buy ice cream at the front gate:

I was sitting with my mom in the room upstairs. My brother Tareq wanted to buy an ice cream. My mom gave him a shekel. He went to get an ice cream and he never came back. He was hit in the head. I have another brother, Anas, 11, who was also injured.

Saber al-Hams, who was selling ice cream at the school’s front gate, said:

I felt that day it was not busy enough, and it was not picking up, so we only stayed for an hour. I left at around 10:30 a.m. I had walked 30 meters out of the school in the direction of the mosque and a big explosion happened. I went back, and I ran toward the place where the rocket hit. Immediately I saw four adults and three children, they were all bleeding. It was an awful mess. We were scared we’d be hit again, so people evacuated the casualties inside of the school gate.

The place was full of people. Actually the rest of the street that day was calm, because there had been a ceasefire, but then it collapsed, so people didn’t go out. On the other parts of the street there weren’t as many people as on other days.…

People were screaming and kids were crying. Ten minutes later the ambulances came. I was too scared to carry anyone in case I would hurt them. I didn’t come close to the bodies, I was just watching, with fear and shock. I keep dreaming of a little boy who was thrown on the pavement. The son of Abu Salah was bleeding from his mouth and the top of his head was damaged. After the attack, I was sick and I vomited.

At the time of the attack, the main hospital in Rafah, al-Najjar Hospital, had been badly damaged by artillery shelling, so the wounded were taken to smaller hospitals in the area.

Human Rights Watch visited the school on August 3. An inspection of the impact mark across the street from the school – a hole in the concrete about 12 centimeters deep and 15 centimeters wide – strongly suggests that the munition was a Spike missile.

Israeli forces use advanced missiles such as the Spike that can be launched by drones, helicopters, armored vehicles, and naval vessels. The Spike is an optically guided munition with sensors that allow the operator to see the target even after the missile is launched and divert it in mid-course if the target is not a military objective or if the attack will cause disproportionate civilian harm. Spike missiles can create casualty-producing fragments up to 20 meters from impact, which was well within the distance of the school’s front gate.

The Israeli military said it had targeted three members of the Islamic Jihad armed group who were on a motorcycle “near” the school but did not provide information showing the basis for this claim. It gave no explanation why it did not attack these three individuals before they drove by the school-shelter or after they had moved away.