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Palestinians collect the remains of bodies at a United Nation-run school sheltering Palestinians displaced by an Israeli ground offensive, that witnesses said was hit by Israeli shelling, in Jebalya refugee camp in the northern Gaza Strip July 30, 2014. (MOHAMMED SALEM/REUTERS)

Palestinians collect the remains of bodies at a United Nation-run school sheltering Palestinians displaced by an Israeli ground offensive, that witnesses said was hit by Israeli shelling, in Jebalya refugee camp in the northern Gaza Strip July 30, 2014.

(MOHAMMED SALEM/REUTERS)

Harper sticks to hard line on Hamas; U.S. condemns Israel's deadly shelling of UN school Add to ...

The United States is condemning Israel’s shelling of a U.N. school in the Gaza Strip that was sheltering displaced Palestinians.

It’s the sharpest criticism the U.S. has levelled at Israel over the more than three weeks of fighting between Israel and Hamas militants in Gaza.

White House spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan says the U.S. is also “extremely concerned” that thousands of Palestinians aren’t safe in U.N.-designated shelters in Gaza even though Israel’s military has told them to evacuate their homes.

Reuters Jul. 30 2014, 11:26 AM EDT

Video: Israeli shells hit UN school in Gaza

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Prime Minister Stephen Harper reiterated his government’s hard line on Hamas Wednesday, saying the organization is solely responsible for the death and destruction in Gaza following almost a month of fighting between Israel and Hamas militants.

“Obviously no one likes to see the suffering and loss of life that has occurred,” Harper told reporters in Air Ronge.

“That said, we hold the terrorist organization Hamas responsible for this. They have initiated and continue this conflict and continue to seek the destruction of the state of Israel.”

The school shelling killed at least 15 Palestinians. In a separate incident, Israeli shelling killed at least 17 people and wounded about 160 others near a fruit and vegetable market in Shejaia, a heavily bombarded neighbourhood on the eastern outskirts of the city of Gaza, the Health Ministry said.

Israel had earlier announced a “humanitarian window” in certain parts of the territory. But it said it would not halt fire in other areas, including in Shijaiyah, where the strike took place. Hamas dismissed the cease-fire, and Gaza militants fired 27 rockets at Israel after it began.

Gaza's Health Ministry says more than 1,300 Palestinians, mostly civilians, have been killed since Israel began its offensive on July 8 with the declared aim of halting cross-border rocket fire.

The IDF said three Israeli soldiers were killed on Wednesday when a booby-trap bomb exploded in a tunnel shaft they had uncovered in a residence in the southern Gaza Strip. On the Israeli side, 56 soldiers and three civilians have been killed.

JABALYA: AT LEAST 15 DEAD

Some 3,300 Palestinians, including many women and children, were taking refuge in the school building in Jabalya refugee camp when it came under fire around dawn, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency said.

“Our initial assessment is that it was Israeli artillery that hit our school,” Krahenbuhl said in a statement after representatives of the agency visited the scene and examined fragments, craters and other damage.

An Israeli military spokeswoman said militants had fired mortar bombs from the vicinity of the school and troops shot back in response. The incident was still being reviewed.

Abdel-Karim al-Masamha, 27, said he and his family had come to the school after fleeing fighting near their home in the northern Gaza Strip. “We did not find safety here,” he said. “People were martyred before our eyes. They were dismembered.”

REFUGEES: 'THERE IS NO SAFETY AT ALL'

Jebalya, which has been under Israeli fire for the past 24 hours, is the largest refugee camp in the Gaza Strip. Its population of 120,000 has been swollen by Palestinians trying to escape fighting between Israel and militant groups in the 23-day-old conflict.

“There is no safety at all, no place is safe, neither homes nor schools,” said Haleema Ghabin, holding her infant son at the school. “What shall I say to the world? Find us a solution, we are defenseless civilians and children.”

UNRWA, the main UN relief agency in Gaza, said it was at “breaking point” with more than 200,000 Palestinians sheltering in its buildings following calls by Israel for civilians to evacuate whole neighborhoods before military operations.

SCHOOLS: CIVILIANS AT RISK IN CROWDED FACILITIES

Last Thursday, 15 Palestinians were killed and 200 injured in a strike on a UN school in the northern Gaza town of Beit Hanoun, crowded with hundreds of displaced civilians.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned that attack and said he was appalled by the bombardment of a UN-designated shelter. The Israeli military said militants had fired from the vicinity of the school in Beit Hanoun and soldiers shot back.

Last week, Ban also expressed alarm at the discovery of rockets at two UNRWA schools. On Tuesday, rockets were found at a third, and a spokesman for the agency condemned “the group or groups who endangered civilians” by placing munitions there.

PEACE PROCESS: UN, U.S. PRESSING FOR CEASEFIRE

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was due to review progress with his security cabinet later on Wednesday, and a Palestinian delegation was expected in Cairo for discussions on an elusive truce.

Both U.S. President Barack Obama and the UN Security Council have called for an immediate ceasefire to allow relief to reach Gaza’s 1.8 million Palestinians, followed by negotiations on a more durable end to hostilities.

Efforts led by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry last week failed to achieve a breakthrough, and the explosion of violence appeared to dash international hopes of turning a brief lull for the Muslim Eid al-Fitr festival into a longer-term ceasefire.

In a statement on Wednesday, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said he was “extremely concerned about the escalating fighting in and around Gaza” in which civilian infrastructure and UN facilities have come under fire. “Everything must be done to prevent civilian victims and to uphold humanitarian law,” he said. “I urge both sides to agree to an immediate ceasefire and to resume negotiations about a long-term ceasefire on the basis of the Egyptian suggestions.”

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