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Israel calls for north Gaza evacuation

Updated: 2014-07-14 07:30
By Agencies in Jerusalem and Gaza City ( China Daily)

Netanyahu: Operation 'might take a long time'; Palestinian toll hits 166

Israel briefly deployed ground troops inside the Gaza Strip for the first time early Sunday as its military warned northern Gaza residents to evacuate their homes, part of a widening offensive that has killed more than 160 Palestinians.

Neither Israel nor Palestinian militants showed signs of agreeing to a cease-fire, despite calls by the United Nations Security Council and others to end the increasingly bloody weeklong offensive. With Israel massing tanks and soldiers at Gaza's borders, some fear that could signal a wider ground offensive that would cause heavy casualties.

"We don't know when the operation will end," Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told a Cabinet meeting on Sunday. "It might take a long time."

Early Sunday, Israeli troops launched a brief raid into northern Gaza to destroy what it described as a rocket-launching site, an operation the military said left four soldiers slightly wounded.

Israeli strikes on Gaza killed a teenage boy and a woman on Sunday, medics said, raising the overall death toll to 166 since last Tuesday.

According to emergency services spokesman Ashraf al-Qudra, one strike on the northern town of Jabaliya struck a house, killing a 14-year-old boy.

Shortly afterward, another strike killed a woman in the Maghazi refugee camp in central Gaza, he said.

Elsewhere, a man injured in an earlier strike died of his wounds, Qudra said.

The Israeli air force later dropped leaflets warning residents to evacuate their homes ahead of what Israel's military spokesman described as a "short and temporary" campaign against northern Gaza to begin sometime after 12 pm. The area is home to at least 100,000 people.

It was not clear whether the attack would be confined to stepped-up airstrikes or whether it might include a sizable ground offensive - something that Israel has so far been reluctant to undertake.

As the ultimatum drew near, hundreds fled Beit Lahiya, one of the communities the Israeli announcement affected. Some raced by in pickup trucks, waving white flags.

"They are sending warning messages," resident Mohammad Abu Halemah said. "Once we received the message, we felt scared to stay in our homes. We want to leave."

Ignoring international appeals for a cease-fire, Israel widened its range of Gaza bombing targets on Saturday to include civilian institutions with suspected Hamas ties. One strike hit a center for the disabled, killing two patients and wounding four people. In a second attack, an Israeli warplane flattened the home of Gaza police chief Taysir al-Batsh and damaged a nearby mosque as evening prayers ended, killing at least 18 people, 17 of whom were al-Batsh family members. Fifty were wounded, including al-Batsh himself.

On Sunday, Palestinians with foreign passports began leaving Gaza through the Erez border crossing. Israel, which is cooperating in the evacuation, said 800 Palestinians living in Gaza had passports from countries including Australia, the United Kingdom and the US.

Israel has launched more than 1,300 airstrikes since the offensive began, military spokesman Leutenant Colonel Peter Lerner said on Sunday. Palestinian militants have launched more than 800 rockets at Israel, including 130 in the last 24 hours, the Israeli military said on Sunday. Several Israelis have been wounded, but there have been no fatalities.

Critics say Israel's heavy bombardment of one of the most densely populated territories in the world is itself the main factor putting civilians at risk

Reuters - AFP

 

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