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Thousands of Palestinians flee northern Gaza

  • CAPTION CORRECTION, CORRECTS THE HOME WAS THAT OF POLICE CHIEF'S COUSIN - Palestinian mourners gather around the grave of a member of the al-Batsh family who were killed in Saturday's Israeli airstrike, during a funeral procession in Gaza City on Sunday, July 13, 2014. The strike hit the home of a cousin of Gaza police chief Taysir al-Batsh and damaged a nearby mosque as evening prayers ended Saturday, killing at least 18 people, wounding 50 and leaving some people believed to be trapped under the rubble, said Palestinian Health Ministry official Ashraf al-Kidra. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)

    CAPTION CORRECTION, CORRECTS THE HOME WAS THAT OF POLICE CHIEF'S COUSIN - Palestinian mourners gather around the grave of a member of the al-Batsh family who were killed in Saturday's Israeli airstrike, during a funeral procession in Gaza City on Sunday, July 13, 2014. The strike hit the home of a cousin of Gaza police chief Taysir al-Batsh and damaged a nearby mosque as evening prayers ended Saturday, killing at least 18 people, wounding 50 and leaving some people believed to be trapped under the rubble, said Palestinian Health Ministry official Ashraf al-Kidra. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)

  • Palestinians take shelter at the United Nations school after they fled their homes in Gaza City, Sunday, July 13, 2014. Israel briefly deployed ground troops inside the Gaza Strip for the first time early Sunday as its military warned northern Gaza residents to evacuate their homes, part of a widening offensive that has killed more than 160 Palestinians. (AP Photo/Adel Hana)

    Palestinians take shelter at the United Nations school after they fled their homes in Gaza City, Sunday, July 13, 2014. Israel briefly deployed ground troops inside the Gaza Strip for the first time early Sunday as its military warned northern Gaza residents to evacuate their homes, part of a widening offensive that has killed more than 160 Palestinians. (AP Photo/Adel Hana)

  • Palestinian youths play on a school desk after they fled their homes with their family to take shelter at the United Nations school in Gaza City, Sunday, July 13, 2014. Israel briefly deployed ground troops inside the Gaza Strip for the first time early Sunday as its military warned northern Gaza residents to evacuate their homes, part of a widening offensive that has killed more than 160 Palestinians. (AP Photo/Adel Hana)

    Palestinian youths play on a school desk after they fled their homes with their family to take shelter at the United Nations school in Gaza City, Sunday, July 13, 2014. Israel briefly deployed ground troops inside the Gaza Strip for the first time early Sunday as its military warned northern Gaza residents to evacuate their homes, part of a widening offensive that has killed more than 160 Palestinians. (AP Photo/Adel Hana)

  • An elderly Palestinian takes shelter at the United Nations school after his family fled their homes in Gaza City on Sunday, July 13, 2014. Israel briefly deployed ground troops inside the Gaza Strip for the first time early Sunday as its military warned northern Gaza residents to evacuate their homes, part of a widening offensive that has killed more than 160 Palestinians. (AP Photo/Adel Hana)

    An elderly Palestinian takes shelter at the United Nations school after his family fled their homes in Gaza City on Sunday, July 13, 2014. Israel briefly deployed ground troops inside the Gaza Strip for the first time early Sunday as its military warned northern Gaza residents to evacuate their homes, part of a widening offensive that has killed more than 160 Palestinians. (AP Photo/Adel Hana)

  • CAPTION CORRECTION, CORRECTS THE HOME WAS THAT OF POLICE CHIEF'S COUSIN - Palestinians use their hands to move soil soaked with water and shape the grave of a member of the al-Batsh family who were killed in Saturday's Israeli airstrike, during a funeral procession in Gaza City on Sunday, July 13, 2014. The strike hit the home of a cousin of Gaza police chief Taysir al-Batsh and damaged a nearby mosque as evening prayers ended Saturday, killing at least 18 people, wounding 50 and leaving some people believed to be trapped under the rubble, said Palestinian Health Ministry official Ashraf al-Kidra. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)

    CAPTION CORRECTION, CORRECTS THE HOME WAS THAT OF POLICE CHIEF'S COUSIN - Palestinians use their hands to move soil soaked with water and shape the grave of a member of the al-Batsh family who were killed in Saturday's Israeli airstrike, during a funeral procession in Gaza City on Sunday, July 13, 2014. The strike hit the home of a cousin of Gaza police chief Taysir al-Batsh and damaged a nearby mosque as evening prayers ended Saturday, killing at least 18 people, wounding 50 and leaving some people believed to be trapped under the rubble, said Palestinian Health Ministry official Ashraf al-Kidra. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)

  • CAPTION CORRECTION, CORRECTS THE HOME WAS THAT OF POLICE CHIEF'S COUSIN - A Palestinian mourner chants slogans on the grave of a member of the al-Batsh family who were killed in Saturday's Israeli airstrike, during a funeral procession in Gaza City on Sunday, July 13, 2014. The strike hit the home of a cousin of Gaza police chief Taysir al-Batsh and damaged a nearby mosque as evening prayers ended Saturday, killing at least 18 people, wounding 50 and leaving some people believed to be trapped under the rubble, said Palestinian Health Ministry official Ashraf al-Kidra. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)

    CAPTION CORRECTION, CORRECTS THE HOME WAS THAT OF POLICE CHIEF'S COUSIN - A Palestinian mourner chants slogans on the grave of a member of the al-Batsh family who were killed in Saturday's Israeli airstrike, during a funeral procession in Gaza City on Sunday, July 13, 2014. The strike hit the home of a cousin of Gaza police chief Taysir al-Batsh and damaged a nearby mosque as evening prayers ended Saturday, killing at least 18 people, wounding 50 and leaving some people believed to be trapped under the rubble, said Palestinian Health Ministry official Ashraf al-Kidra. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)

  • CAPTION CORRECTION, CORRECTS THE HOME WAS THAT OF POLICE CHIEF'S COUSIN - Palestinians walk past one of the houses of the al-Batsh family, demolished by an Israeli strike earlier last week, as they rush to the funeral procession of several members of the al-Batsh family who were killed in Saturday's Israeli airstrike, during a funeral procession in Gaza City on Sunday, July 13, 2014. The strike hit the home of a cousin of Gaza police chief Taysir al-Batsh and damaged a nearby mosque as evening prayers ended Saturday, killing at least 18 people, wounding 50 and leaving some people believed to be trapped under the rubble, said Palestinian Health Ministry official Ashraf al-Kidra. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)

    CAPTION CORRECTION, CORRECTS THE HOME WAS THAT OF POLICE CHIEF'S COUSIN - Palestinians walk past one of the houses of the al-Batsh family, demolished by an Israeli strike earlier last week, as they rush to the funeral procession of several members of the al-Batsh family who were killed in Saturday's Israeli airstrike, during a funeral procession in Gaza City on Sunday, July 13, 2014. The strike hit the home of a cousin of Gaza police chief Taysir al-Batsh and damaged a nearby mosque as evening prayers ended Saturday, killing at least 18 people, wounding 50 and leaving some people believed to be trapped under the rubble, said Palestinian Health Ministry official Ashraf al-Kidra. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)

  • Israelis stand on a hill at the Israeli town of Sderot, overlooking the Gaza Strip, as they watch smoke rising following an Israeli strike on Gaza, Saturday, July 12, 2014.  Ignoring international appeals for a cease-fire, Israel on Saturday widened its range of Gaza bombing targets to civilian institutions with suspected Hamas ties and announced it would hit northern Gaza "with great force" to prevent rocket attacks from there on Israel. More than 150 Palestinians have been killed in five days of bombardment.  (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)

    Israelis stand on a hill at the Israeli town of Sderot, overlooking the Gaza Strip, as they watch smoke rising following an Israeli strike on Gaza, Saturday, July 12, 2014. Ignoring international appeals for a cease-fire, Israel on Saturday widened its range of Gaza bombing targets to civilian institutions with suspected Hamas ties and announced it would hit northern Gaza "with great force" to prevent rocket attacks from there on Israel. More than 150 Palestinians have been killed in five days of bombardment. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)

  • Palestinians mourn their relatives in the morgue of the Shifa hospital in Gaza City on Saturday, July 12, 2014. Over a dozen Palestinians were killed in an Israeli strike on a house, hospital officials said. Ignoring international appeals for a cease-fire, Israel on Saturday widened its range of Gaza bombing targets to civilian institutions with suspected Hamas ties and announced it would hit northern Gaza "with great force" to prevent rocket attacks from there on Israel. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

    Palestinians mourn their relatives in the morgue of the Shifa hospital in Gaza City on Saturday, July 12, 2014. Over a dozen Palestinians were killed in an Israeli strike on a house, hospital officials said. Ignoring international appeals for a cease-fire, Israel on Saturday widened its range of Gaza bombing targets to civilian institutions with suspected Hamas ties and announced it would hit northern Gaza "with great force" to prevent rocket attacks from there on Israel. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

  • CAPTION CORRECTION, CORRECTS THE HOUSE WAS THAT OF POLICE CHIEF'S COUSIN - Palestinians gather outside the damaged house of a cousin of Gaza police chief Taysir al-Batsh after it was hit by an Israeli missile strike in Gaza City, Sunday, July 13, 2014. The strike that hit the home and damaged a nearby mosque as evening prayers ended Saturday, killed at least 18 people, wounded 50 and left some people believed to be trapped under the rubble, said Palestinian Health Ministry official Ashraf al-Kidra. (AP Photo/Hatem Moussa)

    CAPTION CORRECTION, CORRECTS THE HOUSE WAS THAT OF POLICE CHIEF'S COUSIN - Palestinians gather outside the damaged house of a cousin of Gaza police chief Taysir al-Batsh after it was hit by an Israeli missile strike in Gaza City, Sunday, July 13, 2014. The strike that hit the home and damaged a nearby mosque as evening prayers ended Saturday, killed at least 18 people, wounded 50 and left some people believed to be trapped under the rubble, said Palestinian Health Ministry official Ashraf al-Kidra. (AP Photo/Hatem Moussa)

  • Palestinians give greetings in front of the damaged house of Gaza's police chief Taysir al-Batsh after it was hit by an Israeli missile strike in Gaza City, Sunday, July 13, 2014. The strike that hit the home and damaged a nearby mosque as evening prayers ended Saturday, killed at least 18 people, wounded 50 and left some people believed to be trapped under the rubble, said Palestinian Health Ministry official Ashraf al-Kidra. (AP Photo/Hatem Moussa

    Palestinians give greetings in front of the damaged house of Gaza's police chief Taysir al-Batsh after it was hit by an Israeli missile strike in Gaza City, Sunday, July 13, 2014. The strike that hit the home and damaged a nearby mosque as evening prayers ended Saturday, killed at least 18 people, wounded 50 and left some people believed to be trapped under the rubble, said Palestinian Health Ministry official Ashraf al-Kidra. (AP Photo/Hatem Moussa

  • CAPTION CORRECTION, CORRECTS THE HOUSE WAS THAT OF POLICE CHIEF'S COUSIN - Palestinians gather outside the damaged house of a cousin of Gaza police chief Taysir al-Batsh after it was hit by an Israeli missile strike in Gaza City, Sunday, July 13, 2014. The strike that hit the home and damaged a nearby mosque as evening prayers ended Saturday, killed at least 18 people, wounded  50 and left some people believed to be trapped under the rubble, said Palestinian Health Ministry official Ashraf al-Kidra. (AP Photo/Hatem Moussa)

    CAPTION CORRECTION, CORRECTS THE HOUSE WAS THAT OF POLICE CHIEF'S COUSIN - Palestinians gather outside the damaged house of a cousin of Gaza police chief Taysir al-Batsh after it was hit by an Israeli missile strike in Gaza City, Sunday, July 13, 2014. The strike that hit the home and damaged a nearby mosque as evening prayers ended Saturday, killed at least 18 people, wounded 50 and left some people believed to be trapped under the rubble, said Palestinian Health Ministry official Ashraf al-Kidra. (AP Photo/Hatem Moussa)

  • CAPTION CORRECTION, CORRECTS THE HOUSE WAS POLICE CHIEF'S COUSIN - A Palestinian sits in front of the damaged house of a cousin of Gaza police chief Taysir al-Batsh after it was hit by an Israeli missile strike in Gaza City, Sunday, July 13, 2014. The strike that hit the home and damaged a nearby mosque as evening prayers ended Saturday, killed at least 18 people, wounded 50 and some people are believed to be trapped under the rubble, said Palestinian Health Ministry official Ashraf al-Kidra. (AP Photo/Hatem Moussa)

    CAPTION CORRECTION, CORRECTS THE HOUSE WAS POLICE CHIEF'S COUSIN - A Palestinian sits in front of the damaged house of a cousin of Gaza police chief Taysir al-Batsh after it was hit by an Israeli missile strike in Gaza City, Sunday, July 13, 2014. The strike that hit the home and damaged a nearby mosque as evening prayers ended Saturday, killed at least 18 people, wounded 50 and some people are believed to be trapped under the rubble, said Palestinian Health Ministry official Ashraf al-Kidra. (AP Photo/Hatem Moussa)

  • Displaced Palestinians seek refuge in a United Nations school in Gaza City after fleeing their homes Sunday, July 13, 2014. Israel has called on residents of the northern Gaza Strip to evacuate their homes, suggesting a coming attack after its troops earlier launched a brief raid. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

    Displaced Palestinians seek refuge in a United Nations school in Gaza City after fleeing their homes Sunday, July 13, 2014. Israel has called on residents of the northern Gaza Strip to evacuate their homes, suggesting a coming attack after its troops earlier launched a brief raid. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

  • Palestinians carry the body of Islamic Jihad militant  Mohammed Sowelim, who was killed in an Israeli air strike, during his funeral in Jabaliya refugee camp, in the northern Gaza Strip, Saturday, July 12, 2014. Israeli airstrikes targeting Hamas in Gaza hit a mosque and a center for the disabled where two women were killed Saturday, raising the Palestinian death toll from the offensive to more than 120, Palestinian officials said. (AP Photo/Adel Hana)

    Palestinians carry the body of Islamic Jihad militant Mohammed Sowelim, who was killed in an Israeli air strike, during his funeral in Jabaliya refugee camp, in the northern Gaza Strip, Saturday, July 12, 2014. Israeli airstrikes targeting Hamas in Gaza hit a mosque and a center for the disabled where two women were killed Saturday, raising the Palestinian death toll from the offensive to more than 120, Palestinian officials said. (AP Photo/Adel Hana)

  • Palestinians flee their homes to take shelter at the United Nations school in Gaza City, Sunday, July 13, 2014. Israel briefly deployed ground troops inside the Gaza Strip for the first time early Sunday as its military warned northern residents to evacuate their homes, part of a widening campaign against militant rocket fire that's seen more than 160 Palestinians killed. Israel accuses Hamas of using Gaza's civilians as human shields by firing rockets from there. Critics say Israel's heavy bombardment of one of the most densely populated territories in the world is itself the main factor putting civilians at risk. (AP Photo/Hatem Moussa)

    Palestinians flee their homes to take shelter at the United Nations school in Gaza City, Sunday, July 13, 2014. Israel briefly deployed ground troops inside the Gaza Strip for the first time early Sunday as its military warned northern residents to evacuate their homes, part of a widening campaign against militant rocket fire that's seen more than 160 Palestinians killed. Israel accuses Hamas of using Gaza's civilians as human shields by firing rockets from there. Critics say Israel's heavy bombardment of one of the most densely populated territories in the world is itself the main factor putting civilians at risk. (AP Photo/Hatem Moussa)

  • CAPTION CORRECTION, CORRECTS THE HOME WAS THAT OF POLICE CHIEF'S COUSIN - Palestinian mourners gather around the grave of a member of the al-Batsh family who were killed in Saturday's Israeli airstrike, during a funeral procession in Gaza City on Sunday, July 13, 2014. The strike hit the home of a cousin of Gaza police chief Taysir al-Batsh and damaged a nearby mosque as evening prayers ended Saturday, killing at least 18 people, wounding 50 and leaving some people believed to be trapped under the rubble, said Palestinian Health Ministry official Ashraf al-Kidra. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)
  • Palestinians take shelter at the United Nations school after they fled their homes in Gaza City, Sunday, July 13, 2014. Israel briefly deployed ground troops inside the Gaza Strip for the first time early Sunday as its military warned northern Gaza residents to evacuate their homes, part of a widening offensive that has killed more than 160 Palestinians. (AP Photo/Adel Hana)
  • Palestinian youths play on a school desk after they fled their homes with their family to take shelter at the United Nations school in Gaza City, Sunday, July 13, 2014. Israel briefly deployed ground troops inside the Gaza Strip for the first time early Sunday as its military warned northern Gaza residents to evacuate their homes, part of a widening offensive that has killed more than 160 Palestinians. (AP Photo/Adel Hana)
  • An elderly Palestinian takes shelter at the United Nations school after his family fled their homes in Gaza City on Sunday, July 13, 2014. Israel briefly deployed ground troops inside the Gaza Strip for the first time early Sunday as its military warned northern Gaza residents to evacuate their homes, part of a widening offensive that has killed more than 160 Palestinians. (AP Photo/Adel Hana)
  • CAPTION CORRECTION, CORRECTS THE HOME WAS THAT OF POLICE CHIEF'S COUSIN - Palestinians use their hands to move soil soaked with water and shape the grave of a member of the al-Batsh family who were killed in Saturday's Israeli airstrike, during a funeral procession in Gaza City on Sunday, July 13, 2014. The strike hit the home of a cousin of Gaza police chief Taysir al-Batsh and damaged a nearby mosque as evening prayers ended Saturday, killing at least 18 people, wounding 50 and leaving some people believed to be trapped under the rubble, said Palestinian Health Ministry official Ashraf al-Kidra. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)
  • CAPTION CORRECTION, CORRECTS THE HOME WAS THAT OF POLICE CHIEF'S COUSIN - A Palestinian mourner chants slogans on the grave of a member of the al-Batsh family who were killed in Saturday's Israeli airstrike, during a funeral procession in Gaza City on Sunday, July 13, 2014. The strike hit the home of a cousin of Gaza police chief Taysir al-Batsh and damaged a nearby mosque as evening prayers ended Saturday, killing at least 18 people, wounding 50 and leaving some people believed to be trapped under the rubble, said Palestinian Health Ministry official Ashraf al-Kidra. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)
  • CAPTION CORRECTION, CORRECTS THE HOME WAS THAT OF POLICE CHIEF'S COUSIN - Palestinians walk past one of the houses of the al-Batsh family, demolished by an Israeli strike earlier last week, as they rush to the funeral procession of several members of the al-Batsh family who were killed in Saturday's Israeli airstrike, during a funeral procession in Gaza City on Sunday, July 13, 2014. The strike hit the home of a cousin of Gaza police chief Taysir al-Batsh and damaged a nearby mosque as evening prayers ended Saturday, killing at least 18 people, wounding 50 and leaving some people believed to be trapped under the rubble, said Palestinian Health Ministry official Ashraf al-Kidra. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)
  • Israelis stand on a hill at the Israeli town of Sderot, overlooking the Gaza Strip, as they watch smoke rising following an Israeli strike on Gaza, Saturday, July 12, 2014.  Ignoring international appeals for a cease-fire, Israel on Saturday widened its range of Gaza bombing targets to civilian institutions with suspected Hamas ties and announced it would hit northern Gaza "with great force" to prevent rocket attacks from there on Israel. More than 150 Palestinians have been killed in five days of bombardment.  (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)
  • Palestinians mourn their relatives in the morgue of the Shifa hospital in Gaza City on Saturday, July 12, 2014. Over a dozen Palestinians were killed in an Israeli strike on a house, hospital officials said. Ignoring international appeals for a cease-fire, Israel on Saturday widened its range of Gaza bombing targets to civilian institutions with suspected Hamas ties and announced it would hit northern Gaza "with great force" to prevent rocket attacks from there on Israel. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)
  • CAPTION CORRECTION, CORRECTS THE HOUSE WAS THAT OF POLICE CHIEF'S COUSIN - Palestinians gather outside the damaged house of a cousin of Gaza police chief Taysir al-Batsh after it was hit by an Israeli missile strike in Gaza City, Sunday, July 13, 2014. The strike that hit the home and damaged a nearby mosque as evening prayers ended Saturday, killed at least 18 people, wounded 50 and left some people believed to be trapped under the rubble, said Palestinian Health Ministry official Ashraf al-Kidra. (AP Photo/Hatem Moussa)
  • Palestinians give greetings in front of the damaged house of Gaza's police chief Taysir al-Batsh after it was hit by an Israeli missile strike in Gaza City, Sunday, July 13, 2014. The strike that hit the home and damaged a nearby mosque as evening prayers ended Saturday, killed at least 18 people, wounded 50 and left some people believed to be trapped under the rubble, said Palestinian Health Ministry official Ashraf al-Kidra. (AP Photo/Hatem Moussa
  • CAPTION CORRECTION, CORRECTS THE HOUSE WAS THAT OF POLICE CHIEF'S COUSIN - Palestinians gather outside the damaged house of a cousin of Gaza police chief Taysir al-Batsh after it was hit by an Israeli missile strike in Gaza City, Sunday, July 13, 2014. The strike that hit the home and damaged a nearby mosque as evening prayers ended Saturday, killed at least 18 people, wounded  50 and left some people believed to be trapped under the rubble, said Palestinian Health Ministry official Ashraf al-Kidra. (AP Photo/Hatem Moussa)
  • CAPTION CORRECTION, CORRECTS THE HOUSE WAS POLICE CHIEF'S COUSIN - A Palestinian sits in front of the damaged house of a cousin of Gaza police chief Taysir al-Batsh after it was hit by an Israeli missile strike in Gaza City, Sunday, July 13, 2014. The strike that hit the home and damaged a nearby mosque as evening prayers ended Saturday, killed at least 18 people, wounded 50 and some people are believed to be trapped under the rubble, said Palestinian Health Ministry official Ashraf al-Kidra. (AP Photo/Hatem Moussa)
  • Displaced Palestinians seek refuge in a United Nations school in Gaza City after fleeing their homes Sunday, July 13, 2014. Israel has called on residents of the northern Gaza Strip to evacuate their homes, suggesting a coming attack after its troops earlier launched a brief raid. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)
  • Palestinians carry the body of Islamic Jihad militant  Mohammed Sowelim, who was killed in an Israeli air strike, during his funeral in Jabaliya refugee camp, in the northern Gaza Strip, Saturday, July 12, 2014. Israeli airstrikes targeting Hamas in Gaza hit a mosque and a center for the disabled where two women were killed Saturday, raising the Palestinian death toll from the offensive to more than 120, Palestinian officials said. (AP Photo/Adel Hana)
  • Palestinians flee their homes to take shelter at the United Nations school in Gaza City, Sunday, July 13, 2014. Israel briefly deployed ground troops inside the Gaza Strip for the first time early Sunday as its military warned northern residents to evacuate their homes, part of a widening campaign against militant rocket fire that's seen more than 160 Palestinians killed. Israel accuses Hamas of using Gaza's civilians as human shields by firing rockets from there. Critics say Israel's heavy bombardment of one of the most densely populated territories in the world is itself the main factor putting civilians at risk. (AP Photo/Hatem Moussa)

Thousands of Palestinian residents of the northern Gaza Strip fled their homes yesterday and sought safety in U.N. shelters, heeding warnings from the Israeli military about impending plans to bomb the area in the sixth day of an offensive against Hamas that has killed more than 160 people.

The fighting showed no signs of slowing, despite international calls for a cease-fire and growing concerns about the mounting civilian death toll in Gaza. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry spoke to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and voiced U.S. “readiness” to help restore calm, while Egypt, a key mediator between Israel and Hamas, continued to work behind the scenes.

Amid the diplomacy, Israel said it was pushing forward with preparations for a possible ground invasion of Gaza. Thousands of troops have massed along the border in recent days.

“We don’t know when the operation will end,” Netanyahu told his cabinet yesterday. “It might take a long time.” He said the military was prepared “for all possibilities.”

Israel launched the offensive last Tuesday in what it said was a response to heavy rocket fire out of Hamas-controlled Gaza. The military said it has launched more than 1,300 airstrikes, while Palestinian militants have launched more than 800 rockets at Israel. The Palestinian Health Ministry in Gaza said 166 people have been killed, including dozens of civilians. There have been no Israeli fatalities, though several people have been wounded, including a teenage boy who was seriously injured by rocket shrapnel yesterday.

Early yesterday, the Israeli air force dropped leaflets around the northern Gaza town of Beit Lahia ordering people to evacuate their homes. Israel said much of the rocket fire has come from the area, and overnight yesterday, the military carried out a brief ground operation on what it said was a rocket-launching site that could not be struck from the air. Four Israeli soldiers were lightly wounded before returning to Israel.

The U.N. refugee agency for Palestinians, UNRWA, said some 17,000 Palestinians had headed to special shelters set up in 20 United Nations schools in Gaza.

“The fact that in a span of almost a few hours, 10,000 people sought refuge in these 15 schools is an indication to the difficult situation on the ground,” said Sami Mshasha, a UNRWA spokesman.

Some raced by in pickup trucks, waving white flags. “Once we received the message, we felt scared to stay in our homes. We want to leave,” said one resident, Mohammed Abu Halemah.

Shortly before nightfall, Israel carried out a series of airstrikes in the northern Gaza town of Beit Lahia. Hamas’s Al-Aqsa TV station reported four airstrikes in a 10-minute span, and a large plume of black smoke could be seen over the area from the Israeli border. There were no immediate reports of casualties.

Hamas, an Islamic militant group sworn to Israel’s destruction, has remained defiant, and it continued to fire rockets into Israel throughout the day. It urged people in northern Gaza to stay in their homes and has so far rejected proposals for a cease-fire as unsatisfactory.

“They want us to put down our arms and leave the resistance,” said Moussa Abu Marzouk, a top Hamas official, on his Facebook page. “They started the battle, and we will stay on our land and fight to protect our future.”

Despite Israeli claims that it has inflicted heavy damage on the group, Hamas says it is largely unscathed, and Palestinian medics say most of the dead have been civilians.

The outbreak of violence follows the kidnappings and killings of three Israeli teenagers in the West Bank, the kidnapping and killing of a Palestinian teenager in an apparent revenge attack, and wide-ranging Israeli moves against Hamas militants and infrastructure in the West Bank. Hamas has demanded that hundreds of recently arrested activists be freed as part of a cease-fire.

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