Smoke rises after an explosion in the northern Gaza Strip.
Thousands have fled their homes in a Gaza Strip town
after Israel warned them to leave before it attacked
rocket-launching sites, on the sixth day of an offensive that
Palestinian officials said has killed at least 160 people.
Militants in Hamas-ruled Gaza kept up rocket salvoes deep
into the Jewish state as the worst bout of Israel-Palestinian
bloodshed in two years showed no signs of abating, and
Western foreign ministers said a ceasefire was an urgent
Israel dropped leaflets into the town of Beit Lahiya near
Gaza's northern border. 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 on Sunday. U.N. officials said some 10,000 people
had fled south to eight schools run by the world body in Gaza
A senior military officer, in a telephone briefing with
foreign reporters, said Israel would "strike with might" in
the Beit Lahiya area from the late evening hours on Sunday.
He did not say if this would include an expansion of an air
and naval offensive into a ground operation in the north of
the narrow, densely populated Mediterranean enclave.
"The enemy has built rocket infrastructure in-between the
houses (in Beit Lahiya)," the Israeli officer said. "He wants
to trap me into an attack and into hurting civilians."
The Gaza Health Ministry said at least 160 Palestinians -
among them about 135 civilians, including 30 children - have
died during six days of warfare, and more than 1,000 hurt.
At schools run by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency
in Gaza City, Beit Lahiya residents arrived in donkey carts
filled with children, luggage and mattresses, while others
came by car or taxi. One man, still in pajamas, said some
inhabitants had received phone calls telling them to leave.
"What could we do? We had to run in order to save the lives
of our children," said Salem Abu Halima, 25, a father of two.
Gaza's Interior Ministry, in a statement on Hamas radio,
dismissed Israel's warnings as "psychological warfare". It
told those who left their homes to return and others to stay
Dozens of houses in Beit Lahiya were levelled by Israeli
bulldozers during the month-long Gaza war of 2008-2009.
Israel says such structures serve as gun nests and rocket
The leaflets marked the first time Israel had warned
Palestinians to vacate dwellings in such a wide area.
Previous warnings, by phone or so-called "knock-on-the-door"
missiles without explosive warheads, had been directed at
individual homes slated for attack.
A Palestinian woman and a girl aged three were killed in
Israeli air strikes early on Sunday, the Health Ministry
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 seminary students 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 - which included
a commando raid overnight - Palestinians continued to launch
rockets across the border.
A long-range burst on Sunday triggered air raid sirens and
sent people running for shelter at Tel Aviv's Ben-Gurion
Airport, which has not been struck in the hostilities and
where flights have been operating normally, and some city
No one has been killed by the more than 800 rockets Israel
says have been fired since the offensive began. Lacking
guidance systems, many of the rockets have fallen wide.
Others have been shot down by Israel's Iron Dome
"We will continue to act with patience, forbearance, with
determination, responsibility and aggression to achieve the
goal of the campaign - restoring calm for a long period by
dealing a significant blow to Hamas and other terrorist
groups in the Gaza Strip," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
said in broadcast after his cabinet met.
International pressure on both sides for a return to calm has
increased, with the U.N. Security Council calling for a
cessation of hostilities and Western foreign ministers
meeting on Sunday to weigh strategy.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius spoke of "a dangerous
escalation" and told reporters before talks in Vienna with
his U.S., German and British counterparts that securing a
ceasefire was "an absolute priority".
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier will travel
to the Middle East on Monday and Tuesday for meetings with
Netanyahu and U.S.-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud
Abbas, who agreed a power-share deal with his Hamas rivals in
Germany mediated a prisoner swap in 2011 in which an Israeli
soldier held by Hamas was freed in exchange for more than
1,000 Palestinians jailed by Israel.
U.S. WANTS 2012 TRUCE RESTORED
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, whose bid to broker
Israeli-Palestinian peace fell apart when Netanyahu called
off negotiations over the Abbas-Hamas pact, reasserted
Washington's support for Israel's right to self-defence on
But a senior State Department official said that Kerry,
speaking to Netanyahu by phone, also "highlighted the U.S.
concern about escalating tensions ... (and) readiness to
facilitate a cessation of hostilities, including a return to
the November 2012 ceasefire agreement".
That referred to an Egyptian-mediated truce that ended the
last major Gaza flare-up. Cairo is now again seeking calm and
Israeli media said Turkey and Qatar have also offered to
intercede with Hamas, which is formally shunned by Israel,
the United States and European Union as a terrorist group.
Israel has been publicly cool to truce proposals, saying its
current assault on Hamas is the best guarantee of long-term
quiet. Israel says an invasion of Gaza remains an option and
has mobilised more than 30,000 reservists, but most attacks
have so far been from the air, hitting some 1,200 targets.
A survey by Israel's Channel 10 TV found that 90 percent of
the country's Jewish majority supported the air offensive.
Asked if Israel should send in ground forces, 47 percent of
said yes, 32 percent said no, and 21 percent were undecided.
Giving details of Sunday's naval commando raid, Lieutenant
Colonel Peter Lerner, an Israeli military spokesman, said
four members of the force were wounded in skirmishes with
Gaza gunmen but the rocket launching site they attacked was
Hamas said its fighters had fired at the Israeli force
offshore, preventing them from landing. Lerner said the
forces had "completed their mission".
Hundreds of mourners attended the funerals on Sunday of the
17 Palestinians killed in Israel's bombing, on Saturday
night, of the home of Gaza police chief Taysee Al-Batsh.
"With our souls and blood we will redeem the martyrs!" the
crowd chanted as armed men fired in the air.
A Hamas source said Batsh was in critical condition and that
all the dead were members of his family. The Gaza Health
Ministry said 45 people were also wounded in the bombing.
The Israeli military said it had appointed a general to
investigate the high civilian toll in several Gaza strikes.
An Israeli teenager was wounded on Sunday by a rocket that
struck the southern town of Ashkelon, emergency services