The Israeli army has warned some 100,000 Palestinians in the eastern Gaza Strip to evacuate their homes, military sources said Wednesday.
Eyewitnesses saw flyers dropped over the Zeitun neighbourhood southeast of Gaza City, and residents there and elsewhere also reported receiving recorded phone and text messages urging them to evacuate by 0500 GMT.
The flyers explained that the army would be carrying out “aerial strikes against terror sites and operatives” in Zeitun and Shujaiya, since “a high volume of rocket fire at Israel” was from there.
A similar message was sent to residents of Beit Lahiya in northern Gaza.
“The evacuation is for your own safety,” the leaflet read, warning residents to not return to their homes until further notice.
Similar messages had been sent to Beit Lahiya with a Sunday deadline, causing the exodus of 17,000 people who took shelter in United Nations schools.
The warnings came on the ninth day of Israel’s Operation Protective Edge, which aims to stamp out rocket fire from Gaza fighters, and follows comments from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday that Israel’s operation would be expanded and intensified.
Tuesday night was the most violent since the beginning of the crisis in terms of the number of airstrikes, according to Palestinian security sources.
Thirty houses were bombed early Wednesday morning reportedly including the home of a top Hamas leader, Mahmoud Zahar. If the attack on Zahar’s home is confirmed, an escalation of rocket fire into Israel is anticipated, said MEE’s contributor Mohammed Omer from Gaza City.
Also early Wednesday, Israeli forces raided the homes of senior Hamas members, including Fathi Hammad, and two members of the Palestinian Legislative Council, Jamial al-Shanti in Jabalya and Ismail al-Ashqar in Gaza City.
Because Hamas did not accept an Egyptian-led ceasefire proposal which both Israel and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas signed onto on Tuesday, Netanyahu said the group had left Israel with no choice aside from heightening its military campaign.
“That’s how we will act until we achieve our goal of bringing quiet to Israel’s citizens, while significantly harming [Hamas],” he said on Tuesday.
However, Hamas leaders as well as leaders of Islamic Jihad and the Popular Resistance Committees – the three main groups involved in fighting in the current crisis – say their groups were excluded from consultations on the ceasefire and they were therefore not obliged to abide by the proposal.
The Palestinian Resistance Committees spokesperson Abu Mujahed told journalists on Tuesday, “We have not received any initiative, and for us there is no ceasefire or calming measures”.
Since 8 July, fighters have fired nearly 1,000 rockets and mortars into Israel, and Israeli forces have carried out around 1,500 strikes against targets inside the Gaza Strip, the army says.
Palestinian medical sources said 205 people were killed in the Israeli strikes and 1,500 have been injured.
On Tuesday, the first Israeli was killed by a rocket fired from Gaza at the Erez border crossing.
(Middle East Eye – www.middleeasteye.net)