Thousands flee northern Gaza after Israeli warnings

July 13, 2013

Thousands of Palestinians are fleeing northern parts of Gaza after Israel warned it was targeting the area in its campaign to stop rocket attacks.

The UN says 17,000 people have sought refuge in its facilities as Israeli air strikes continue for a sixth day.

Israeli forces have raided a suspected rocket-launching site in Gaza in their first reported ground incursion.

At least 159 Palestinians have been killed since Israel’s offensive began, according to health officials in Gaza.

The dead are said to include 17 members of one family who died in an Israeli missile strike on Saturday evening.

Israel says it is targeting Hamas militants and “terror sites”, including the homes of senior operatives. However, the United Nations has estimated that 77% of the people killed in Gaza have been civilians.

The UN Security Council called for a ceasefire and peace talks on Saturday.

In the latest developments

  • French Prime Minister Manuel Valls spoke out against “importing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict” on to French soil after rioters tried to break into two synagogues in Paris following a rally against the Israeli air strikes in Gaza
  • A mortar shell or rocket fired from Syria hit the Israeli-occupied sector of the Golan Heights, the Israeli military said
  • A rocket fired from Gaza hit electricity infrastructure in Israel that supplied power to Gaza, cutting power to about 70,000 people, the Israeli military said

‘Nowhere to go’

The military confirmed it had dropped leaflets over the city of Beit Lahiya on Sunday morning telling civilians to seek shelter.

“We do not wish to harm civilians in Gaza, but these civilians must know that remaining in close proximity to Hamas terrorists and infrastructures is extremely unsafe,” the IDF said.

UN Relief and Works Agency spokesman Chris Gunness said in a tweetthat the agency had doubled its spaces for displaced people from 10,000 to 20,000.

Meanwhile, about 800 Palestinians holding dual citizenship began leaving Gaza via Israel’s Erez Crossing.

The Palestinian Authority’s envoy in the UK, Manuel Hassassian, told BBC News there was nowhere for Gaza residents to hide.

“There are no shelters, no bunkers, no place to go, except their homes,” he said. “If they leave their homes, they will be hit on the street.”

Early on Sunday, Israeli air strikes destroyed most of the security headquarters and police stations run by Hamas Islamist militants.

Israel has been building up its troops along the border with northern Gaza, fuelling speculation of a possible ground invasion.

Defending Israel’s actions, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told US broadcaster CBS: “We’re sorry for any accidental civilian deaths but it’s the Hamas that bears complete responsibility for such civilian casualties.”

The IDF says it has so far struck some 1,320 “terror” sites across Gaza, while Hamas has launched more than 800 rockets at Israel.

At least three Israelis have been seriously injured since the violence erupted, but no Israelis have been killed by the attacks.

Palestinian sources say more than 1,000 people have been injured in Gaza.

France on Sunday again condemned the Hamas rocket attacks, but also called on Israel to “show restraint” in its Gaza campaign and avoid civilian casualties.

Germany is sending Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier to Israel on Monday for talks with Israelis and Palestinians to help negotiate an end to the violence.

Rocket fire and air strikes increased after the abduction and killing of three Israeli teenagers in June and the suspected revenge killing of a Palestinian teenager in Jerusalem.

Israel and militants in Gaza fought an eight-day war in November 2012, which ended with a truce.

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