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article imageIsrael warns 100,000 Gazans to flee as truce efforts resume

By Mai Yaghi (AFP)     Jul 15, 2014 in World

Israel told 100,000 Gazans to flee their homes on Wednesday but the warning was largely ignored, as regional leaders made fresh attempts to end the bloody nine-day confrontation.

Israel resumed its punishing air campaign after Egyptian-brokered truce efforts collapsed, while Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas was due both in Cairo and later Ankara in search of regional support for an immediate end to the fighting.

So far, Israel's campaign, now in its ninth day, has killed 209 Palestinians, with a Gaza-based rights group saying over 80 percent of them were civilians.

Rockets are launched from Gaza towards Israel on July 16  2014
Rockets are launched from Gaza towards Israel on July 16, 2014
Jack Guez, AFP

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

Warplanes during the night 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 Israeli military also dropped flyers and sent text messages warning 100,000 people in northeastern Gaza 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.

A Palestinian boy shows a flyer dropped over Gaza City by the Israeli army urging residents to evacu...
A Palestinian boy shows a flyer dropped over Gaza City by the Israeli army urging residents to evacuate their homes, on July 16, 2014, in Gaza City
Thomas Coex, AFP

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.

- Nowhere to run to -

But for patients at Al-Wafa hospital in Shejaiya, many of whom are paralysed or in a coma, the warning simply provoked even more fear.

"We cannot leave our patients, they are helpless," director Basman Alashi told AFP, saying most of them could were completely incapacitated and in no position to be moved.

A wounded Palestinian man waits in the corridor of the Al-Wafa rehabilitation hospital near Gaza Cit...
A wounded Palestinian man waits in the corridor of the Al-Wafa rehabilitation hospital near Gaza City on July 16, 2014
Thomas Coex, AFP

"There is no place safe in Gaza! If a hospital is not safe, where is?" he said as the sound of nearby shelling rattled the windows.

The Israeli warnings appeared to have had no immediate effect, with only limited numbers seen leaving. Children picked up many of the flyers and played with them, an AFP correspondent said.

"Where should we go?" asked Faisal Hassan, a father of five who lives in Zeitun.

Hamas dismissed the warning as a scare tactic, telling residents there was "no need to worry".

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

Palestinians sleep in the yard of a UN school in the northern Gaza Strip town of Beit Lahia early on...
Palestinians sleep in the yard of a UN school in the northern Gaza Strip town of Beit Lahia early on July 16, 2014, after evacuating their houses near the border with Israel
Mohammed Abed, AFP

But Israeli President Shimon Peres insisted the warning was to protect the innocent.

"We're trying to defend our own people, as we must, and we're also trying hard not to hit innocent people in Gaza," he said on meeting Italy's top diplomat.

- 'Netanyahu spoke to Sisi' -

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday vowed to step up the military campaign after Hamas dismissed an Egyptian ceasefire proposal, firing scores of rockets over the border despite the army holding its fire for six hours.

Map showing zones in Gaza Israel wants civilians to evacuate and the latest strikes on both side
Map showing zones in Gaza Israel wants civilians to evacuate and the latest strikes on both side
, AFP

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

Meanwhile, Haaretz newspaper said the stillborn Egyptian truce had been pieced together after a phone call between Netanyahu and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on Saturday, which took place following mediation efforts by Mideast Quartet envoy Tony Blair.

Quoting senior Israeli officials and Western diplomats, the paper said the reason the Egyptian initiative failed was because it was "prepared hastily" and was not coordinated with Hamas.

A Palestinian man walks past the house of senior Hamas official Mahmud al-Zahar after it was destroy...
A Palestinian man walks past the house of senior Hamas official Mahmud al-Zahar after it was destroyed by an overnight Israeli air strike, on July 16, 2014, in Gaza City.
Thomas Coex, AFP

Hamas on Tuesday said it had rejected the Cairo truce efforts because it had not been included in the discussions.

However, Mussa Abu Marzuq, a senior figure within Hamas's exiled political leadership who is based in Cairo, said the Islamist movement was still in discussions about a possible ceasefire.

Speaking to reporters in Cairo, Azzam al-Ahmed, a leading figure in Abbas's Fatah movement, confirmed talks about a truce were ongoing, and said a senior Hamas official would meet to discuss the matter during the day with an Egyptian mediator.

Abbas himself was to arrive in Egyptian capital later on Wednesday for top-level truce talks, and was scheduled to travel to Turkey on a similar mission on Thursday, officials said.

Meanwhile, in an overnight meeting, Israel's security cabinet approved plans to destroy Hamas's network of tunnels that riddles Gaza, army radio said.

They also discussed the possibility of a limited ground incursion which would not initially involve entering towns of 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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