JERUSALEM, June 6 (Reuters): Israel hit a Gaza school on Thursday with what it described as a targeted airstrike on up to 30 Hamas men inside, and a Hamas official said 40 people were killed including women and children sheltering at the UN site.

Video footage showed Palestinians hauling away bodies and scores of injured in a local hospital after the attack, which took place at a sensitive moment in mediated talks on a ceasefire that would involve releasing hostages held by Hamas and some of the Palestinians held in Israeli jails.

At the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital in Deir al-Balah, Palestinian boy Imad al-Maqadmeh lay on the floor, his swollen face badly bruised and bleeding. He said he lost his father in the strike.

“What did we do? There are no armed people in the school. The ones there are children, playing. We play together… Why did they bomb us?” he said in the video obtained by Reuters.

In images of the dead laid out at the hospital surrounded by wailing mourners, bodies were mostly wrapped in shrouds or carpets, making it impossible to determine from the video if they included non-combatants.

The United States issued a joint statement with other countries calling on Israel and Hamas to make whatever compromises were necessary to finalise a deal after eight months of war in the Gaza Strip. Ismail Al-Thawabta, the director of the Hamas-run government media office, rejected Israel’s assertion that the UN school in Nuseirat, in central Gaza, had hidden a Hamas command post.

“The occupation uses … false fabricated stories to justify the brutal crime it conducted against dozens of displaced people,” Thawabta told Reuters.

Israel’s military said its fighter jets had carried out a “precise strike”, and circulated satellite photos highlighting two parts of a building where it said the fighters were based.

“We’re very confident in the intelligence,” military spokesperson Lt Col. Peter Lerner said, accusing Hamas and Islamic fighters of deliberately using UN facilities as operational bases.

He said 20-30 fighters were located in the compound, and many of them had been killed, but had no precise details as intelligence assessments were being carried out. “I’m not aware of any civilian casualties and I’d be very, very cautious of accepting anything that Hamas puts out,” he said.

As people at the school cleared rubble from bloodstained classrooms, survivor Huda Abu Dhaher described waking up to the sound of rockets.

“People’s remains were scattered inside the yard and outside. The gas canister exploded,” she told Reuters.

“My nephew was martyred (killed), he lost his leg and arm, he was a 10-year-old … This woman’s leg got a fragment in it, her son bled from his mouth and leg.”

The school, run by the UN Palestinian Refugee Agency (UNRWA), was sheltering 6,000 displaced people at the time, UNRWA chief Philippe Lazzarini said.

“At least 35 people were killed and many more injured,” he wrote on X. “Claims that armed groups may have been inside the shelter are shocking. We are however unable to verify these claims. Attacking, targeting or using UN buildings for military purposes is a blatant disregard of International Humanitarian law.”

Thawabta and a medical source said 40 had been killed, including 14 children and nine women.

The bombing took place in a central part of Gaza where Israel announced a new military campaign on Wednesday as it battles fighters relying on hit-and-run insurgency tactics. It says there will be no halt to fighting during ceasefire talks, which have intensified since U.S. President Joe Biden outlined a proposal for a truce on Friday.

Hamas seeks a permanent end to the war. Israel says it must destroy Hamas first.

In another sensitive development, the Israeli military reported a rare attack near the Israel-Gaza border, saying a squad of Palestinian fighters killed a soldier and three of them were killed in return fire.

A statement by the Hamas armed wing, the Al-Qassam Brigades, said its fighters had conducted an operation behind enemy lines in the Rafah area of southern Gaza, a location corresponding to the Israeli military’s account.

CIA director William Burns met senior officials from mediators Qatar and Egypt on Wednesday in Doha to discuss the ceasefire plan. Two Egyptian security sources said talks continued on Thursday but had shown no sign of a breakthrough.

Biden has repeatedly declared that ceasefires were close over the past several months, but all such efforts have failed since a single week-long truce in November.

The US president’s announcement of a ceasefire proposal coincides with intense domestic political pressure on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to chart a path to end the eight-month-old war and negotiate the release of hostages.

A centrist party in his emergency coalition government has threatened to quit by Saturday if he does not commit to a post-war plan for Gaza. Far-right members have pledged to retire if he agrees to a peace deal that leaves Hamas in place.

Hamas precipitated the war by attacking Israeli territory last Oct. 7, killing around 1,200 people and capturing more than 250 hostages, according to Israeli tallies. About half the hostages were freed in the November truce.

Israel’s military assault on Gaza has killed more than 36,000 people, according to health officials in the territory, who say thousands more dead are feared buried under the rubble.

US and Israeli officials have told Reuters about half of Hamas’s forces have been killed in the conflict. Hamas does not disclose fatalities among its fighters and some officials say Israel exaggerated the figures. Israel’s own military death toll is almost 300. – Reuters