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Israeli army tells north Gazans to evacuate

The death toll in the blockaded enclave of Gaza reached over 135, most of them civilians

Published: Updated:

Israel's military said it was ordering Palestinians living in the northern Gaza Strip to evacuate the area "for their own safety."

The warning comes as Israel steps up its five-day offensive against Gaza militants, which has killed over 135 Palestinians, many of them civilians.

An Israeli air strike on the home of Gaza's police chief killed 15 Palestinians on Saturday evening, Gaza health ministry said.

A source in Gaza's dominant Hamas group said the police chief, Tayseer Al-Batsh, was in a critical condition and most of the dead were from the same family, Reuters reported.

The attack came shortly after Hamas’ armed wing, the al-Qassam Brigades, fired several rockets at the Israeli cities of Tel Aviv and Bat Yam, with no reported injuries.

Three rockets were intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system, the Israeli army said, according to AFP.

“Three rockets intercepted above the Tel Aviv metropolitan area. Another rocket hit an open area near Rishon LeTzion,” the army said in a statement, after sirens and explosions were heard in Israel's commercial capital.

On the ground, the al-Quds Brigades, the armed wing of Palestinian group the Islamic Jihad, said on Saturday that its fighters had clashed with Israeli special forces trying to advance into Gaza.

The Brigades said there were “losses” among attacking Israeli forces.

Israel's military commander Gantz said his forces were ready to act as needed - an indication of a readiness to send in tanks and other ground troops, as Israel last did for two weeks in early 2009.

“We are in the midst of an assault and we are prepared to expand it as much as is required, to wherever is required, with whatever force will be required and for as long as will be required,” Gantz told reporters.

Some 20,000 reservists have already been mobilized, the army said.

The al-Qassam Brigades threatened Friday to fire rockets a Tel Aviv’s Ben-Gurion international airport, and warned airlines not to fly to Israel's main gateway to the world.

The rocket salvoes by the hardline movement and its allies, some striking more than 100 km from Gaza, have killed no one so far.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel attacked more than 1,000 targets in the first four days of the offensive, and that “there are still more to go."

He also would not rule out the possibility of expanding the campaign of mostly aerial attacks into a ground war in Gaza, answering when asked whether such a move was possible that “we are weighing all possibilities and preparing for all possibilities.”

A Palestinian youth was reportedly burned alive in Jerusalem in a suspected Israeli revenge attack.

“Terrorists in Gaza made a grave mistake by attacking the people of Israel. They are bringing disaster upon themselves,” army Chief-of-Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz said in a statement posted on Twitter on Friday.

Amid growing international outcry over the civilian rising civilian casualties among Palestinians in Gaza, they Israel army issued a statement saying: “When houses are used for military purposes, they may become legitimate military targets under international law.”

Navi Pillay, the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, had called on the Israeli military to abide by international law.

“We have received deeply disturbing reports that many of the civilian casualties, including of children, occurred as a result of strikes on homes,” Pillay said. “Such reports raise serious doubt about whether the Israeli strikes have been in accordance with international humanitarian law and international human rights law.”

Pillay said she's seen for herself in Gaza how traumatic the airstrikes and rocket attacks are for civilians, particularly children. Her office said civilians bear the brunt of the conflict now - and all sides must refrain from launching attacks or putting military weapons in densely populated areas.

“Israel, Hamas, and Palestinian armed groups in Gaza have been down this road before, and it has led only to death, destruction, distrust and a painful prolongation of the conflict,” Pillay said.

(With Reuters and AFP)