Israeli missiles crashed into two U.N. schools today, killing at least 30 people in one school and three more in the other attack as the chaotic fighting in Gaza became deadlier than ever.
The attacks on the schools are certain to heighten international outrage over Israel's Gaza offensive as well as diplomatic pressure for a cease-fire.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Egyptian President Hosmi Mubarak proposed a plan to halt the fighting today, which Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas endorsed. With the plan's details not yet released, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said the proposed cease-fire plan would bring together the main parties to end the violence and discuss critical issues like reopening all crossings.
"I am sure that it will be considered and you will find out whether it was accepted," Israeli Ambassador Gabriela Shalev told reporters, according to Reuters. "But we take it very, very seriously."
Sarkozy went to Syria and asked the Syrian government to use its influence on Hamas to stop it from firing rockets at Israeli towns.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas were scheduled to meet at the United Nations in New York today, but there was little indication that a cease-fire deal was in reach.
Meanwhile the carnage has increased as fighting has edged closer to Gaza's teeming population centers. Hamas fighters are battling back with suicide attackers, Israeli "friendly fire" was blamed for the death of four troopers and whole families are being killed while huddling in their homes.
As many as 640 Palestinians have died, and 2,850 have been wounded in the 11 days of fighting so far, according to Palestinian medical sources. Close quarter fighting between Israeli troops and Hamas fighters on the outskirts of Gaza City is proving costly for both sides.
Six Israeli soldiers have been killed and 70 wounded, according to the Israeli military.
The heaviest toll came today when an Israeli missile slammed into a U.N. school in Jabaliya.
John Ging, director of U.N. refugee operations in Gaza, said there were at least 30 dead at the school and 55 injured, including five who were critically wounded. Palestinian sources in Gaza, however, told ABC News that more than 40 died in the school rubble.
"The situation is horrific at the moment," Ging said. "There is no safe sanctuary for Palestinians."
Ging said 350 people had sought refuge in the girls' school. The U.N. said the school was clearly marked and its Global Positioning System location was registered with the Israelis.
A spokesman for the Israeli Defense Forces said an initial inquiry determined that Israeli forces fired a volley of mortar rounds at the school in retaliation for several mortar rounds that were allegedly fired at them from the school grounds.
"There were quite few Hamas militants inside the school. They were launching rockets at our force," said Israeli army spokesman, Maj. Avital Leibovitch.
Israel said the bodies of two Hamas operatives were found among the dead at the school.
"This is not the first time that Hamas has fired mortars and rockets from schools, in such a way deliberately using civilians as human shields in their acts of terror against Israel," the IDF statement said.
U.N. officials said three mortar rounds landed within the school's perimeter.