GAZA CITY, Jan 7: Almost a third of the 689 Palestinians killed in Israel’s Gaza offensive were children, with most killed since the start of a ground offensive after a week of aerial bombardment, medics said on Wednesday.

Also on Wednesday, the Organisation of the Islamic Conference, a group representing 57 Muslim countries, characterised the Israeli attack on a United Nations school as a war crime. More than 40 non-combatants taking shelter in the school had been killed in the Tuesday attack.

The proportion of civilians killed has risen dramatically since Saturday, when ground troops joined the assault on Hamas leaders and activists in Gaza after a week of aerial and naval bombardment.

A total of 220 children have been killed since Operation

Cast Lead was unleashed on December 27, according to Gaza emergency services chief Moawiya Hassanein.

Humanitarian agencies fear civilian casualties will rise further as the battle moves into the most densely populated areas of Gaza, one of the most crowded places on the planet.

“Of increasing concern is the number of children and their families fleeing the fighting and bombardment or seeking refuge because their homes have been destroyed or damaged,” the Save the Children agency said.

Palestinians “are becoming more and more desperate as each day of attacks goes by”, said Martha Myers, CARE director for the Palestinian territories, after one of the agency’s food distribution workers was killed in an air strike on Tuesday night.

“This is further evidence that any attack, even a targeted one, will result in civilian casualties,” she said.

Ambulance driver killed: The Red Cross has revealed that a Palestinian Red Crescent ambulance driver was killed and two others were wounded after being hit during an Israeli bombardment in the Gaza Strip last weekend.

Three other Red Crescent medical teams and at least four ambulances have been caught in crossfire since then, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said in a statement.

One ambulance had been called out by the Israeli military on Monday under an established coordination mechanism with the Red Crescent, yet was subsequently hit by gunfire from Israeli soldiers, Federation spokesman Paul Conneally said.

The Federation said the Palestinian Red Crescent had also been forced to evacuate several of its premises “in areas where humanitarian needs are often greatest” because of such incidents.

‘War crime’: The Organisation of the Islamic Conference has slammed as a war crime Israel’s shelling of the UN-run school in Gaza and called for the UN General Assembly to be convened to halt the 12-day-old assault on the territory.

The secretary general of the OIC, Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, “strongly condemned the heinous crimes committed yesterday when Israel targeted hundreds of unarmed civilians, including women and children, who took refuge in UNRWA schools in Gaza,” a statement said.

“The secretary general considered these Israeli attacks on civilians as war crimes whose perpetrators should be accountable in front of international justice.”

Mr Ihsanoglu called for the Gaza crisis to be brought before the UN General Assembly “immediately” under the UN’s so-called “Uniting for Peace” provisions after the Security Council failed to agree a response to the crisis.

The “Uniting for Peace” mechanism allows the General Assembly to take up urgent questions of international peace and security when the Security Council appears deadlocked and unable to respond to a crisis.—Agencies

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