Thousands of Gazans flee homes after Israeli warning as death toll rises

At least 160 dead on the sixth day of bombardments, say Palestinan officials

Sun, Jul 13, 2014, 20:05

Thousands of Palestinians fled to United Nations facilities in the Gaza Strip seeking sanctuary after Israel warned them to leave their homes ahead of stepped-up strikes against rocket squads.

Palestinian officials said at least 160 people have been killed on the sixth day of bombardment.

About 4,000 Gazans have taken refuge in eight shelters run by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, according to spokesman Chris Gunness.

The Israeli air force dropped leaflets this morning calling for the evacuation, suggesting an imminent attack after its troops earlier launched a brief raid.

Israel’s military spokesman said troops will begin a “short and temporary” campaign against northern Gaza.

The call comes after Israeli special forces launched a brief raid early today into northern Gaza to destroy what it described as a rocket-launching site. The military said four soldiers were slightly wounded in the operation. It was the first time that Israeli ground troops are known to have entered Gaza in the current offensive.

Ignoring international appeals for a ceasefire, Israel has widened its range of Gaza bombing targets to civilian institutions with suspected Hamas ties.

Yesterday, Israel announced it would hit northern Gaza “with great force” to prevent rocket attacks from there on Israel. One of the Israeli strikes hit a centre for the disabled where Palestinians said two patients were killed and four people seriously hurt.

In a second attack, yesterday evening, an Israeli warplane flattened the home of Gaza’s police chief and damaged a nearby mosque as evening prayers ended, killing at least 18 people, officials said.

In New York, the UN Security Council called unanimously for a ceasefire, while Britain’s foreign minister said he will discuss ceasefire efforts with his American, French and German counterparts today.

So far, neither Israel nor Gaza’s Hamas rulers have signalled willingness to stop.

Israel has carried out more than 1,200 air strikes this week to try to diminish Hamas’ ability to fire rockets at Israel.

The chief military spokesman, Brigadier General Motti Almoz, said there would be more strikes, especially in northern Gaza near the Israeli border. “We are going to attack there with great force in the next 24 hours due to a very large concentration of Hamas efforts in that area,” he said.

The military said it was ordering Palestinians in northern Gaza to evacuate “for their own safety”.

Gaza’s interior ministry urged residents in the area to ignore Israel’s warnings and to stay in their homes, saying the announcement was Israeli “psychological warfare” and an attempt to create confusion.

Shortly after the Israeli announcement, an Israeli warplane struck the home of the Gaza police chief, Taysir al-Batsh, killing at least 18 people and wounding 50, said health ministry official Ashraf al-Kidra. He said worshippers were leaving the mosque after evening prayers at the time of the strike and that some people are believed to be trapped under the rubble.

Israel has launched more than 1,300 air strikes since the offensive began, said military spokesman Lt Col Peter Lerner. Palestinian militants have launched more than 800 rockets at Israel, including 130 in the last 24 hours, the Israeli military said.

Israel has said it is acting in self-defence against rockets that have disrupted life across much of the country. It also accuses Hamas of using Gaza’s civilians as human shields by firing rockets from there.