Battered Gazans flee homes
GAZA CITY: Israel stepped up its aggression against Gaza Sunday, warning Palestinians in the north to flee after marines mounted a ground attack, and diplomatic efforts to halt the bloodshed intensified.
As world powers prepared to meet over the spiraling bloodshed, the Palestinian death toll from the punishing Israeli air campaign hit 166, with another 1,120 people wounded, the emergency services said.
Despite increasing calls for a cease-fire, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the military was hitting Hamas “with growing force,” warning there was no end in sight. “We do not know when this operation will end,” he said.
As the death toll from the six-day campaign spiralled, the Gaza-based Palestinian Center for Human Rights said most of the victims were civilians, putting the number at more than 130, among them 35 children and 26 women.
It also said Israeli had targeted 147 homes and badly damaged hundreds of others.
Meanwhile in northern Gaza, even before the army’s warnings went out, thousands of residents were fleeing for their lives after a night of traumatic violence, an AFP correspondent reported.
“It was the middle of the night, and I gathered the children, they were so afraid,” said Samari Al-Atar, breaking down in tears as she described how her family fled barefoot with shooting all around.
Many sought refuge in eight schools run by the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, where some 4,000
people had taken cover, UNRWA’s head of operations Robert Turner said.
“More are arriving by the minute. They are mostly fleeing areas in the north,” he said. UNRWA facilities have the capacity to shelter up to 35,000 people, a spokesman said.
Saturday’s death toll was the highest yet with 56 people killed, including 18 people who died in a single strike on a house in Gaza City.
The blast leveled the building and sheared the facade off a neighboring structure, exposing a kitchen and a fridge with its door ripped off, full of food and drink.
Pope Francis appealed to world leaders for both prayer and diplomacy to halt the bloodshed, while the German and Italian foreign ministers were both poised to head to the region to join truce efforts, their offices said.
Thousands rallied across Asia to denounce the offensive and show support for Palestinians, with 3,000 gathering and hundreds more in Hong Kong, New Delhi and Jakarta.