Gaza families forced to flee the violence
PALESTINIAN families have fled neighbourhoods on the outskirts of Gaza City as Israel unleashed heavy artillery fire at what it said was a large network of militant tunnels ahead of a possible ground invasion.
Israel has massed troops along the border and called up 9,000 reservists as fighting intensifies with the Islamic militant group Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip.
Palestinian militants have fired some 1,800 rockets, and the Israeli military has launched more than 600 air strikes, toppling at least three high-rise apartment buildings, and has shelled some areas with tanks stationed near the frontier.
As Israel and Hamas plunged closer to all-out war despite international efforts at a ceasefire, communal violence in Israel erupted for a fourth night.
Jewish and Arab mobs clashed in the flashpoint town of Lod, even after Israel dispatched additional security forces.
The Gaza Health Ministry said the toll from the fighting has risen to 119 killed, including 31 children and 19 women, with 830 wounded.
The Hamas and Islamic Jihad militant groups have confirmed 20 deaths in their ranks, though Israel says that number is much higher.
Seven people have been killed in Israel, including a six-year-old boy and a soldier.
Palestinians living outside Gaza City, near the northern and eastern frontiers with Israel, fled the intense artillery bombardment yesterday. Families arrived at the UN-run schools in the city in pick-up trucks, on donkeys and by foot, hauling pillows and pans, blankets and bread.
“We were planning to leave our homes at night, but Israeli jets bombarded us so we had to wait until the morning,” said Hedaia Maarouf, who fled with her extended family of 19 people, including 13 children.
“We were terrified for all of our children, who were screaming and shaking.”
In the northern Gaza Strip, Rafat Tanani, his pregnant wife and four children were killed after an Israeli warplane reduced a building to rubble, residents said.
“It was a massacre,” said Sadallah Tanani, a relative. “My feelings are indescribable.”
Lt Col Jonathan Conricus, a military spokesman, said tanks stationed near the border fired 50 rounds.
It was part of a large operation that also involved air strikes and was aimed at destroying tunnels beneath Gaza City used by militants to evade surveillance and air strikes, which the military refers to as “the Metro”.
“As always, the aim is to strike military targets and to minimise collateral damage and civilian casualties,” he said.
“Unlike our very elaborate efforts to clear civilian areas before we strike high-rise or large buildings inside Gaza, that wasn’t feasible this time.”