UN chief Ban Ki-moon has strongly condemned an Israeli attack on a UN-run school in the Gaza Strip in which several women, children and UN staff have been killed, reiterating his demand that attacks against civilians and UN premises should be avoided by all sides.
"I am appalled by the news of an attack on an UNRWA (UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East) school in Northern Gaza where hundreds of people had taken refuge. Many have been killed - including women and children, as well as UN staff. Circumstances are still unclear. I strongly condemn this act," Ban said.
"Today's attack underscores the imperative for the killing to stop - and to stop now," he said.
A series of explosions at a school run by the United Nations sheltering hundreds of Palestinians who had fled their homes for safety from Israeli military assaults killed at least 11 people this afternoon and wounded 200 others.
Hundreds of Palestinians had taken refuge in the UN school in the northern Gaza town of Beit Hanoun.
Ban expressed his condolences to the families of the victims and those of "so many hundreds of innocent Gazans who have tragically been killed as a result of the massive Israeli assault."
UN staff had been attempting to arrange a humanitarian pause in the hostilities to evacuate civilians.
In his briefing to the UN Security Council from Ramallah two days ago, Ban had condemned the Hamas rocket fire and called on Israel to exercise particular care to avoid any attack on UN premises where civilians have taken refuge.
So far, more than 100,000 Gazans, about five per cent of the total population, have sought refuge in UNRWA facilities.
"I once again stress to all sides that they must abide by their obligations under international humanitarian law to respect the sanctity of civilian life, the inviolability of UN premises and to honour their obligations to humanitarian workers," Ban said.
He is meeting leaders in the Middle East seeking to put an end to the violence between Israelis and Palestinians.
The trip, which began on Sunday, has already taken the United Nations chief to Qatar and Kuwait and will also include stops in Jerusalem, Ramallah and Amman as part of efforts to encourage a durable ceasefire.
Ban said he would continue to work with international and regional partners to help reach a deal to end the fighting as soon as possible for the people of Gaza and Israel.