Thousands flee homes in Gaza after Israel warns of aerial attack

Hamas rocket lands near Israel's third biggest city, Haifa, 155km from the Gaza Strip

An Israeli soldier on the Israeli-Gaza border yesterday:  there was speculation that the intensified bombing was the first stage ahead of an invasion by armoured and infantry units. Photograph: Ilia Yefimovich/Getty Images

An Israeli soldier on the Israeli-Gaza border yesterday: there was speculation that the intensified bombing was the first stage ahead of an invasion by armoured and infantry units. Photograph: Ilia Yefimovich/Getty Images

Mon, Jul 14, 2014, 07:58

Israel has stepped up its aerial assault on the area of Beit Lahiya in the northern Gaza Strip after issuing warnings that compelled 10,000 residents to flee to UN compounds.

In what may be a precursor for a ground offensive, its defence forces yesterday destroyed rocket-launching sites and the homes of local militant commanders.

Before the attacks, Israeli planes dropped leaflets and local residents received phone calls warning that an escalation was imminent and telling them to leave the area. Hamas urged residents to ignore the warnings, which were described as a form of “psychological warfare”.

With thousands of Israeli soldiers stationed along the border, there was speculation that the intensified bombing was the first stage ahead of an invasion by armoured and infantry units.

Propaganda victory Despite

relentless Israeli strikes, the militants scored a major propaganda victory, firing a missile that landed in the vicinity of the northern port of Haifa, Israel’s third largest city, 155km (96 miles) from Gaza. The attack means most of Israel’s coastline is now within rocket range of Gaza militants.

After six days of Israel’s Operation Protective Shield, Palestinian sources reported at least 166 dead, including 36 children, with more than 1,000 people wounded, most of them civilians.

Two Israeli women have died from heart attacks running for shelters during air-raid warnings. Although several people have sustained serious injuries, as of last night there have been no Israeli fatalities as a direct result of rocket explosions.

Israel’s Iron Dome anti-missile defence batteries have intercepted the majority of militant projectiles.

Special forces Israeli naval commandos

destroyed a rocket-launching site in the first such raid acknowledged so far by the Israeli military.

President Mahmoud Abbas asked the UN to place Palestinian territory under “international protection”.

Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu said Israel was hitting Hamas with growing force: “We do not know when this operation will end.”

Initial ceasefire contacts are under way involving mediation efforts by several states. But a truce proposal has still not been drafted and one problem is the failure of the parties to agree on a mediator. Israel insists on Egypt; Hamas wants Qatar or Turkey.

The efforts are expected to step up a gear with today’s arrival in Israel of German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who said the region needs a “coalition of sanity” to end the escalation.

“The . . . suffering of the injured civilians is heartbreaking,” he said.