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Israel used a U.S.-made bomb in a deadly U.N. school strike in Gaza

The aftermath of an Israeli strike on a U.N. school compound in Nuseirat, in the central Gaza Strip, that killed more than 30 people, including children, according to a Gaza hospital director. Israel said it was targeting Hamas and Islamic Jihad operatives hiding in two school classrooms.
Anas Baba for NPR
The aftermath of an Israeli strike on a U.N. school compound in Nuseirat, in the central Gaza Strip, that killed more than 30 people, including children, according to a Gaza hospital director. Israel said it was targeting Hamas and Islamic Jihad operatives hiding in two school classrooms.

TEL AVIV, Israel, and NUSEIRAT, Gaza Strip — The Israeli military made improper use of a U.S.-made bomb in a deadly airstrike Thursday on a United Nations school compound in Gaza, according to current and former U.S. defense officials who analyzed an image of the bomb remnants documented by NPR at the site.

The munition used was a GBU-39 small-diameter bomb, according to a Pentagon official and a former U.S. Air Force official. It is the same kind of bomb, according to The New York Times, that Israel used in an airstrike last month that killed dozens of displaced civilians at a tent camp in the southern Gaza city of Rafah, an incident Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called a “tragic mishap.”

Israel’s army said it was targeting a group of militants inside two classrooms at a U.N. school in Nuseirat, a central Gaza refugee camp. But the 2 a.m. strike killed at least 32 people, including seven children, according to Dr. Khalil Doqran, spokesman for the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital in central Gaza.

Families displaced in the war are sheltering in the school. At the hospital morgue, NPR documented one body bag labeled as containing the body parts of five children.

Injured men sit outside the scene of destruction caused by an Israeli strike on a U.N. school in Nuseirat in central Gaza.
Anas Baba for NPR /
Injured men sit outside the scene of destruction caused by an Israeli strike on a U.N. school in Nuseirat in central Gaza.

The Israeli army said the militants it was targeting had participated in the deadly Oct. 7 assault on southern Israel and were plotting attacks from inside the school. Army spokesman Peter Lerner said the military called off the strike twice to minimize collateral damage, and that he was unaware of any civilian casualties in the strike.

The Pentagon official told NPR that Israel had used the bomb improperly because the bomb is intended to cause low collateral damage but caused a high number of casualties.

“Israel is using the most advanced, precise and effective bombs the U.S. produces like a cudgel,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss Israel’s conduct.

The remains of a U.S.-made bomb that was used by Israel a deadly airstrike Thursday on a United Nations school compound in Gaza.
Anas Baba for NPR /
The remains of a U.S.-made bomb that was used by Israel in a deadly airstrike Thursday on a United Nations school compound in Gaza.

Wes Bryant, the former Air Force official, said the U.S. military would have most likely called off such a strike where militants were holed up in a U.N. school housing displaced civilians because the estimated number of civilian casualties would be high.

“What strikes me most about these most recent strikes by the IDF [Israeli military], in which large numbers of civilians have again been killed, is that they are using munitions intended to be both precision and low collateral damage — but they are not employing them in a manner in which those qualities are applied,” said Bryant, a retired master sergeant and former special operations joint terminal attack controller in the elite special warfare branch of the U.S. Air Force.

 The aftermath of an Israeli strike on a UN school in Nuseirat in central Gaza.
Anas Baba for NPR /
The aftermath of an Israeli strike on a UN school in Nuseirat in central Gaza.

The U.S. State Department called on Israel to name those killed in the strike.

The Israeli military declined NPR's request for comment on the kind of munitions used, but identified the names of nine men it said were militants killed in the strike.

The U.N. school in Nuseirat is sheltering families that had been displaced multiple times: those who fled north Gaza to Rafah in south Gaza at the start of the war, and who then fled Israel’s offensive on Rafah to the U.N. school.

Philippe Lazzarini, the head of the U.N. agency that aids Palestinian refugees, said the school compound is sheltering 6,000 displaced people at the moment.

“Claims that armed groups may have been inside the shelter are shocking. We are however unable to verify these claims,” he said in a statement on the social media platform X.

One family had reached the school two weeks ago and was killed while they were sleeping, relatives told NPR.

In the aftermath of the strike, rubble covered the school courtyard and blood covered the school staircase. Two boys with head and leg injuries remained in the school compound. Children were collecting wood from among the rubble to use as firewood, and U.N. officials were trying to repair a door and windows of the compound for families still sheltering there.

Relatives mourn family members killed in the airstrike.
Anas Baba for NPR /
Relatives mourn family members killed in the airstrike.

At the Al-Aqsa Martyrs hospital morgue, a mother grieved over her dead son’s body. The hospital director said more than 140 people have been killed since Wednesday in central Gaza as Israel launched a new offensive in the area.

“The scene inside the emergency room inside Al-Aqsa Hospital is even worse than yesterday. They have no chance to reorganize from ... yesterday’s events, and now they are struck with mass casualties after mass casualties,” said Karin Huster, a medical adviser for humanitarian group Doctors Without Borders, who is at the hospital. “Patients are on the floor. There is blood everywhere ... dead bodies are not being taken to the morgue because the facility is overwhelmed.”

NPR's Daniel Estrin reported from Tel Aviv; NPR producer Anas Baba reported from Gaza.

NPR’s Tom Bowman and Aya Batrawy contributed to this story.

Copyright 2024 NPR

Corrected: June 7, 2024 at 6:07 AM MDT
A previous version of this story mistakenly identified Khalil Doqran as the director of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital. He is a spokesman for the hospital.
Daniel Estrin is NPR's international correspondent in Jerusalem.
Anas Baba
[Copyright 2024 NPR]