Gaza City, Palestinian Territories -
Israel urged 100 000 Gazans to flee their homes on Wednesday, but the warning was largely ignored as the military intensified its nine-day campaign after Hamas snubbed a ceasefire effort.
As the punishing Israeli operation resumed pace, Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas was to travel to Egypt and Turkey in search of regional support for an immediate end to the fighting after an attempt at an Egyptian-brokered truce collapsed.
So far, the Israeli campaign has killed 208 Palestinians, with a Gaza-based rights group saying over 80 percent of the victims were civilians. And militants have fired more than 1 200 rockets at Israel, which on Tuesday claimed their first Israeli life.
Overnight, warplanes 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 air force dropped flyers that warned about 100 000 Palestinians in the north-eastern Gaza Strip to evacuate their homes by 05.00GMT, before it launched strikes that killed at least three people at Khan Yunis in the south.
The flyers threatened “aerial strikes against terror sites and operatives” in Zeitun and Shejaiya, two flashpoint districts east of Gaza City that were the source of “a high volume of rocket fire”.
A similar message was sent to residents of Beit Lahiya in the north, echoing a warning sent by the army on Sunday, when more than 17 000 residents of the north fled for their lives, most seeking refuge in UN-run schools.
Flyers were seen falling in Zeitun, and residents elsewhere also reported receiving recorded phone and text messages urging them to evacuate and not return until further notice.
But the warnings did not have any effect immediate effect, with only a few people leaving their homes.
Children could be seen picking up the flyers and playing with them, some ripping them up and scattering the pieces.
“They dropped these bits of paper from planes telling people to leave. Where should we go?” asked Faisal Hassan, who lives in Zeitun.
“I will not leave my house, whatever happens. I have five children, we don't have food, we don't have wages. We're sitting here under God's mercy.”
But Hamas urged residents to ignore the warnings.
“There is no need to worry about these (warnings), or deal with them. Do not respond to them in any way,” it said. “This is part of the psychological war, intended to disrupt the domestic front.”
Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed the army would “expand and intensify” its operations after Hamas dismissed an Egyptian ceasefire proposal, firing scores of rockets over the border, despite the army holding its fire for six hours.
“This would have been better resolved diplomatically... but Hamas leaves us no choice but to expand and intensify the campaign against it,” he said.
Although Israel would still prefer a truce to a ground operation, the security cabinet met overnight to discuss the possibility of a limited ground operation, army radio reported.
The cabinet approved plans to destroy the network of tunnels used by Hamas militants engaged in rocket fire, the radio said.
It also discussed the possibility of a limited ground incursion which would not initially involve entering towns of villages, as Israel continued its military build-up along the border.
The cabinet meeting came after a rocket on Monday claimed the first Israeli life, a civilian who had been delivering food to soldiers near the northern Erez crossing.
Since July 8, militants have fired more than 1 200 rockets and mortars at Israel, and Israel has bombed more than 1,750 targets inside Gaza, according to the army.
Palestinian president Abbas was due to arrive in Cairo on Wednesday evening where he was expected to meet top Egyptian officials over fresh efforts to seek a ceasefire, and was expected to head to Turkey a day later, officials said.
Hamas explained its rejection of Cairo's efforts at a truce by saying it had not been included in the discussions, and thereby was not obliged to observe it.
However, Mussa Abu Marzuq, a top member of the movement's exiled politburo said Hamas was still in discussions about a possible ceasefire.
In his remarks on Tuesday evening, Netanyahu hit back at domestic critics of his decision to accept Egypt's proposal, shortly afterwards he sacked the deputy defence minister over his criticism of the government's handling of the crisis. - Sapa-AFP