Thousands of Gaza civilians flee after Israeli threat- UPDATED

Palestinian residents of the northern Beit Lahia town flee to Gaza City after Israeli warplanes dropped leaflets signaling an impending airstrike

Thousands of Gaza civilians flee after Israeli threat- UPDATED

World Bulletin/News Desk

Thousands fled their homes in a Gaza town on Sunday after Israel warned them to leave ahead of threatened attacks, on the sixth day of an offensive that Palestinian officials said has killed at least 160 people.

Thousands took refuge at a number of schools belonging to the United Nations agency for Palestine refugees (UNRWA) in Gaza city, which have turned into shelters.

“We had to flee after Israel threatened to strike the house,” Safia Tafish, who has fled her home in Beit Lahia to one of the UNRWA schools, told Anadolu Agency.

“There are no facilities at these schools,” she said. “We have no water or electricity.”

"Those who fail to comply with the instructions will endanger their lives and the lives of their families. Beware," read a leaflet dropped by the Israeli military in the town of Beit Lahiya, near the border with Israel.

The witnesses said the leaflets set the areas to be targeted as the region stretching between Attatrah and Salattin neighborhoods as well as the west and north of Jabalia refugee camp.

Resistance fighters kept up rockets salvoes deep into the Jewish state in response to Israeli attacks and the worst bout of Israel-Palestinian bloodshed in two years showed no signs of abating despite mounting international pressure to cease fire.

A Palestinian woman and a girl, aged 3, were killed in Israeli air strikes early on Sunday, Gaza's Health Ministry said. Hours earlier, the ministry said 18 people were killed when the house of Gaza's police chief was bombed from the air in the single deadliest attack of Israel's offensive.

Despite intensified Israeli military action - which included a commando raid overnight in what was Israel's first reported ground action in Gaza during the current fighting - fighters continued to launch rocket after rocket across the border.

A long-range salvo on Sunday morning triggered air raid sirens at Tel Aviv's Ben-Gurion international airport, which has not been hit in the hostilities and where flights have been operating normally, and some city suburbs.

No one has been killed by the more than 800 rockets the Israeli military said has been fired since the offensive began, and during Saturday night's barrage, customers in Tel Aviv beachfront cafes shouted their approval as they watched the projectiles being shot out of the sky.

The Gaza Health Ministry said at least 160 Palestinians, including about 135 civilians - among them some 30 children, have been killed six days of warfare, and more than 1,000 have been wounded.

Israeli leaflets dropped on Beit Lahiya, where 70,000 Palestinians live, said civilians in three of its 10 neighbourhoods were "requested to evacuate their residences" and move south, deeper into the Gaza Strip, by 12 p.m. (0900 GMT).

A senior Israeli military officer, in a telephone briefing with foreign reporters, said Israel would "strike with might" in the Beit Lahiya area from the late evening hours on Sunday.

He did not say if this would include an expansion of an air and naval offensive into a ground operation in the north of the narrow, densely populated Mediterranean enclave.

The Gaza Interior Ministry, in a statement on Hamas radio, dismissed the Israeli warnings as "psychological warfare" and instructed those who left their homes to return and others to stay put.

The warnings cited roads that residents could use safely and said Israeli forces intended to attack "every area from where rockets are being launched". The military did not say in the leaflet whether the strike would include ground troops.

It was the first time Israel had warned Palestinians to vacate dwellings in such a wide area. Previous warnings, by telephone or so-called "knock-on-the-door" missiles without explosive warheads, had been directed at individual homes slated for attack.

At least 4,000 people fled Beit Lahiya and crowded into eight U.N.-run schools in Gaza City on Sunday, a spokesman for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency said.

Some arrived on donkey carts filled with children, luggage and mattresses, while others came by car or taxi. One man, still in his pajamas, said some residents had received phone calls warning them to clear out.

"What could we do? We had to run in order to save the lives of our children," said Salem Abu Halima, 25, a father of two.

GROUND INVASION OPTION

Israel says a ground invasion of Gaza remains an option, and it has already mobilised more than 30,000 reservists to do so, but most attacks have so far been from the air, hitting some 1,200 targets in the territory.

International pressure on both sides for a return to calm has increased, with the U.N. Security Council calling for a cessation of hostilities.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius on Sunday said that securing a ceasefire for the Gaza Strip and preventing an escalation of the latest outbreak of hostilities between Israel and the Palestinians was top priority for France.

"In Gaza and Israel the absolute priority is a ceasefire," Fabius told reporters ahead of a side discussion on the latest outbreak of hostilities in Gaza with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, British Foreign Secretary William Hague and German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier.

"In this context of a dangerous escalation, France asks for a return to the 2012 ceasefire," he added.

Hostilities along the Israel-Gaza frontier first intensified last month after Israeli forces arrested hundreds of Hamas activists in the Israeli-occupied West Bank following the abduction there of three Jewish teenagers who were later found killed. A Palestinian youth was then killed in Jerusalem in a suspected Israeli revenge attack.

Israel said it has carried out 1,320 attacks on militant targets, that have included homes - which it described as command centres - warehouses, smuggling tunnels and rocket launching and manufacturing sites.

Palestinian residents say some of the dwellings hit in the attacks did not belong to militants and that attacks on homes have caused numerous civilian casualties.

HAMAS ROCKETS

Meanwhile, the Ezzeddin al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas' armed wing, said on Sunday that it launched five locally-made J80 rockets on some Israeli cities.

The brigades said in a statement that it fired a rocket against the northern Israeli city of Haifa, three rockets against the capital Tel Aviv and a rocket against the northern city of Rishon LeZion.

The Ezzeddin al-Qassam Brigades fired several rockets against Tel Aviv and its suburbs on Saturday, shortly after it issued a warning to civilians in the Israeli capital.

 

 

Last Mod: 13 Temmuz 2014, 17:46
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