Image caption, Victims of the strike were taken to Nasser Hospital in Khan Younis

  • Author, David Gritten
  • Role, BBC news

At least 29 Palestinians have been killed and dozens wounded in an Israeli airstrike on a tent camp for displaced people near a school in southern Gaza, hospital officials said.

The Hamas-run Health Ministry in Gaza said Tuesday’s attack took place next to the gate of the al-Awda school in the town of Abasan al-Kabira, east of the city of Khan Younis.

An eyewitness described the number of casualties as “unimaginable.”

The Israeli military said it had used “precise munitions” to target a “terrorist from Hamas’ military wing” who had taken part in the October 7 attack on Israel. It also said it was “investigating reports that civilians had been injured” near the school.

The strike was condemned by the European Union and Germany.

“People seeking shelter in schools and being killed is unacceptable,” the German Foreign Ministry said in a statement on X. “The repeated attacks on schools by the Israeli army must stop and an investigation must be launched promptly.”

The incident came a week after the Israeli military ordered civilians to evacuate Abasan al-Kabira and other areas in eastern Khan Younis, causing tens of thousands of people to flee.

Much of the city was destroyed by a prolonged Israeli offensive earlier this year, but large numbers of Palestinians had moved there to escape the ongoing Israeli operation in nearby Rafah.

The BBC spoke to witnesses who said the area around the Al-Awda school was teeming with displaced people from villages east of Khan Younis, and who detailed the bloody aftermath of the strike.

According to witnesses, the attack caused widespread destruction and the deaths of women and children.

Body parts were strewn across the grounds and many people staying in tents outside the school were also injured.

Al Jazeera TV posted a shocking video which it said showed the moment the missile hit the area.

The photo shows a group of people watching a football match in the schoolyard and then taking cover after a loud explosion occurs nearby.

Multiple screams can be heard as the cameraman runs to a street strewn with rubble, with dead and wounded people lying on the ground.

Image caption, The strike was the fourth in four days at or near schools housing displaced people.

Ayman Al-Dahma, 21, told the BBC that about 3,000 people were packed into the area at the time, which he said included a market and residential buildings.

He described the number of casualties as “unimaginable” and said he had seen people whose limbs had been blown off by the explosion.

He continued: “They said it was a safe place – that there was water and food, that there were schools and everything… Suddenly a rocket comes down on you and all the people around you.”

Mohamed Awadeh Anzeh told the BBC the area was busy with people and market traders “going about their normal lives” when the strike broke out.

He continued: “Suddenly, as we were sitting, there was a sound. It became dark… I was feeding my little child.

“I don’t know what happened. All of a sudden I grabbed him and started running… and as I was running, I saw blood pouring out of my leg.”

He described a “terrifying” scene and said he saw body parts strewn across the street.

Iqram Sallout said there was no prior warning that a strike would take place in the area, telling the BBC that the area was full of people who had been forced from their homes by the conflict.

“There are many displaced people. You couldn’t even walk on the street. There were many tents and people, including young people.”

He added: “The injuries we saw were serious, even in young children.”

Video from Nasser Hospital in Khan Younis, where victims of Abasan al-Kabira were taken, showed more than a dozen dead and seriously wounded, including several children, lying on the floor of a single room.

Image caption, According to witnesses, women and children were killed in the attack

This was the fourth attack on or near schools housing displaced people in four days.

The Israeli military said it carried out the first three attacks because Hamas politicians, police officers and fighters were using them as bases:

  • On Saturday, 16 people were killed in an attack on a school run by the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) in the Nuseirat urban refugee camp in central Gaza, where the Hamas-run Health Ministry said it was home to about 2,000 displaced people.
  • On Sunday, a senior Hamas government official and three other people were killed in an attack on a church-run school in Gaza City, local sources said.
  • On Monday evening, several people were reportedly injured in an attack on another UNRWA school in Nuseirat.

UNRWA chief Philippe Lazzarini said two-thirds of schools in Gaza had been hit since the war began and some had been “bombed out”.

“Schools have gone from being safe places of education and hope for children to overcrowded shelters, often ending up as places of death and misery,” he wrote on X.

“The flagrant disregard for international humanitarian law cannot become the new norm.”

In a separate incident in northern Gaza on Wednesday, the Israeli military said its forces carried out an overnight operation against Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad fighters operating from a UNRWA headquarters in Gaza City and using it as a base to carry out attacks.

The military said troops had opened a “defined corridor to facilitate the evacuation of civilians” from the area before entering the structure and “eliminating terrorists in close-quarters combat”.

There has been no comment yet from UNRWA.

Israeli ground forces have again entered several areas in Gaza City over the past two weeks after the military said Hamas and PIJ fighters had regrouped there since the beginning of the year.

The Israeli military has launched a campaign in Gaza to destroy Hamas in response to an unprecedented attack on southern Israel on October 7 that killed some 1,200 people and took 251 hostage.

More than 38,240 people have been killed since then, according to the Hamas-run Health Ministry in Gaza.