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Israel warns 100,000 Gazans to evacuate their homes

July 16, 2014 10:46 A.M. (Updated: July 17, 2014 2:03 P.M.)
GAZA CITY (AFP) -- Israel urged 100,000 Gazans to flee their homes on Wednesday, but the warning was largely ignored despite an intensification of the military's nine-day campaign.

As the punishing Israeli operation resumed pace, President Mahmoud Abbas was to travel to Egypt and Turkey in search of regional support for an immediate end to the fighting after an attempt at an Egyptian-brokered truce collapsed.

So far, Israel's campaign, now in its ninth day, has killed 208 Palestinians, with a Gaza-based rights group saying over 80 percent of them were civilians.

In the same period, militants have fired more than 1,200 rockets at Israel, which on Tuesday claimed their first Israeli life.

Overnight, warplanes struck about 40 sites across Gaza, among them political targets, as militants also kept up their fire on Israel's coastal plain, with four rockets shot down over metropolitan Tel Aviv.

The air force also dropped flyers warning 100,000 in northeastern Gaza Strip to evacuate their homes ahead of an air campaign targeting "terror sites and operatives" in Zeitun and Shejaiya, two flashpoint districts east of Gaza City.

An identical message was sent to Beit Lahiya in the north, echoing a similar army warning on Sunday, when more than 17,000 residents of the north fled for their lives, most seeking refuge in UN-run schools.

As well as the flyers, residents also received texts and pre-recorded phone messages urging them to evacuate and not return until further notice.

Gazans defiant

But the warnings did not have any immediate effect, with only limited numbers seen leaving, as children picked up the flyers and played with them, an AFP correspondent said.

"They dropped these bits of paper from planes telling people to leave. Where should we go?" asked Faisal Hassan, a father of five who lives in Zaytoun.

"I will not leave my house, whatever happens."

Hamas told residents to ignore the warnings, saying there was "no need to worry."

"This is part of the psychological war, intended to disrupt the domestic front," it said in a statement.

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to step up the military campaign after it claimed Hamas dismissed an Egyptian ceasefire proposal.

"This would have been better resolved diplomatically ... but Hamas leaves us no choice but to expand and intensify the campaign against it," he said.

Hamas said that it was not consulted officially by any party and only found out about the initiative through media outlets.

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri condemned international and regional support for the ceasefire initiative, explaining that if one of the sides involved in the conflict is not consulted it is "worthless."

The Israeli security cabinet met overnight to discuss the possibility of a limited ground operation, army radio reported, saying ministers had approved plans to destroy Hamas' network of tunnels.

They also discussed the possibility of a limited ground incursion which would not initially involve entering towns or villages, it said.

"Israel has no option but to continue the operation and intensify it," former national security adviser Giora Eiland told army radio.

"The main dilemma is over a ground operation," he said, explaining that only a ground operation could inflict "real destruction" on Hamas's network of underground tunnels.

"It looks like we’re rolling in that direction, since air strikes have their limitations."
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