Israel warns thousands to flee Gaza homes

Israel mulls Gaza ground invasion

Credit: AFP

An Israeli soldier directs a Merkava tank in an army deployment area near Israel's border with the Gaza Strip on July 8.

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by JANELLE DUMALAON & YOUSEF AL-HELOU

Special for USA TODAY

Posted on July 16, 2014 at 8:09 AM

GAZA CITY — Israel has called on tens of thousands of residents in areas close to the Gaza-Israel border to leave their homes as it continues to launch airstrikes that it says are aimed at rooting out Hamas militants.

In nine days of fighting, 204 Palestinians have been killed and 1450 have been wounded, Gaza's health ministry said. There has been one Israeli death.

The renewed bombings come after Israel initially accepted an Egyptian truce proposal Tuesday that called for a halt of hostilities. Hamas rejected the deal, saying it did not believe Egypt's current rulers — who deposed a Hamas-friendly government in Cairo last year — can be fair brokers.

Still, some analysts say the Egyptian-proposed plan may still succeed as Hamas moves toward defining its demands.

"The cease-fire plan may evolve over the next few days," said David Butter, an analyst specializing on Middle East affairs at the Chatham House think tank in London.

"I believe Hamas has started to put in some particular demands. Basically, these are a series of ideas on completely changing their status, removing any kind of siege on Gaza and moving forward with courts and trade and so on," said Butter. He did not rule out the possibility of the conflict escalating.

Israel told residents of the northern town of Beit Lahiya and the Zeitoun and Shijaiyah neighborhoods of Gaza City, all near the border with Israel, to evacuate their homes by 8 a.m. Wednesday. The warnings were delivered in automated phone calls, text messages and leaflets dropped from planes.

The Israeli military said in its message that large numbers of rockets were launched from these areas and that Israel plans to bomb these locations.

"Whoever disregards these instructions and fails to evacuate immediately, endangers their own lives, as well as those of their families," the message said.

A Hamas website on Wednesday said Israel fired missiles at the homes of four of its senior leaders as it resumed its bombardment of Gaza following the failed cease-fire effort. Hamas militants fired a barrage of rockets back at Israel with some reaching deep into Israeli territory.

The United Nations has said that the majority of those killed in Gaza as a result of Israel's Operation Protective Edge that started July 8 have been civilians.

Meanwhile, civilians in Gaza remain caught between the back-and-forth of the region's political and military decision-makers, locals say.

"We are the victims of politicians," said Ibrahim Badwan, 38, an accountant and father of five in Gaza. "We want to live a decent life, to bring up our children in a safe environment."

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