Thousands flee Gaza after Israeli warning

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

Militants in the Hamas- ruled Gaza Strip kept up rockets salvoes deep into the Jewish state and the worst bout of Israel-Palestinian bloodshed in two years showed no signs of abating, and Western foreign ministers meeting said a ceasefire was an urgent priority.

Israeli forces dropped leaflets into the town of Beit Lahiya near Gaza’s northern border with Israel. They read: “Those who fail to comply with the instructions to leave immediately will endanger their lives and the lives of their families. Beware.”

The Israeli military told the residents of three of Beit Lahiya’s 10 neighbourhoods to get out of the town of 70,000 by midday yesterday. UN officials said some 4,000 people had fled south to eight schools run by the world body in Gaza City.

A senior Israeli military officer said Israel would “strike with might” in the Beit Lahiya area from the late evening hours.

At schools run by the UN Relief and Works Agency in Gaza City, Beit Lahiya residents arrived in donkey carts filled with children, luggage, and mattresses. Others came by car or taxi.

In a statement, the Gaza Interior Ministry dismissed the Israeli warnings as “psychological warfare” and instructed those who left their homes to return and others to stay put.

A Palestinian woman and a girl aged 3 were killed in Israeli air strikes early yesterday, the Gaza Health Ministry said. Hours before, 17 people were killed when the house of Gaza’s police chief was bombed from the air — the single deadliest attack of Israel’s offensive.

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

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 revenge attack by Israelis. Despite intensified Israeli military action militants continued to launch rockets across the border.

A long-range burst yesterday morning triggered air raid sirens at Tel Aviv’s Ben-Gurion international airport and some suburbs. On Saturday night, Hamas sent rockets streaking toward Tel Aviv and other areas in central Israel.


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