White House: U.N. school shelling ‘indefensible’

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WASHINGTON — The White House said Thursday there’s little doubt Israeli artillery hit a United Nations school in Gaza, a deadly incident that a spokesman called “totally unacceptable and totally indefensible.”

The shelling occurred amid growing White House frustration with the scope of the civilian casualties resulting from Israel’s ground and air war against Hamas. Palestinian health officials said at least 17 people were killed and 90 wounded in the Wednesday school attack — the latest in a series of strikes the U.N. says has hit facilities that are supposed to be safe zones.

The White House initially condemned the shelling, but pointedly did not assign blame. But one day later, spokesman Josh Earnest said “it does not appear there’s a lot of doubt about whose artillery was involved.”

Earnest cited statements from United Nations officials, including Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who said all available evidence pointed to Israel. He also noted the Israeli government’s admission that it was shelling in the direction of the school in response to fire from the area.

While the U.S. says it supports Israel’s right to defend itself against Hamas, officials have repeatedly called on Israel to do more to stem civilian casualties. More than 1,300 Palestinians, mostly civilians, and more than 50 Israelis, almost all of them soldiers, have been killed since July 8.

The White House continues to call for an immediate humanitarian cease-fire but there appeared to be little sign that one was imminent. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Thursday that Israel will destroy the Hamas tunnel network in the Gaza Strip “with or without a cease-fire,” as the military called up another 16,000 reservists to pursue its campaign in the densely-populated territory.

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