Gaza City: Israel sharpened its campaign against Gaza Sunday, warning Palestinians in the north to flee after marines mounted a ground attack, as diplomatic efforts to halt the bloodshed intensified.
World powers prepared to meet over the spiralling bloodshed as the Palestinian death toll from the punishing Israeli air campaign hit 168 with another 1,120 people wounded, the emergency services said.
But fearing for their lives, about 17,000 people have taken shelter in installations of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, said its spokesman Chris Gunness in a statement.
Despite increasing calls for a ceasefire, 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 told ministers.
US Secretary of State John Kerry phoned Netanyahu to renew a US offer to help mediate a truce and he “highlighted the US concern about escalating tensions on the ground,” a senior State Department official said.
Kerry also said that he was engaged with regional leaders “to help to stop the rocket fire so calm can be restored and civilian casualties prevented”.
On the Palestinian side, president Mahmud Abbas said he would ask UN chief Ban Ki-moon to “put the State of Palestine under the UN international protection system” in order to address the violence in Gaza.
As the death toll from the six-day campaign spiralled, the Gaza-based Palestinian Centre for Human Rights said most of the victims were civilians, putting their number at more than 130, among them 35 children and 26 women.
It also said Israeli had hit 147 homes and badly damaged hundreds of others.
So far, no Israelis have been killed, although militants in Gaza have pounded the south and centre of the country with about 715 rockets since the fighting began on July 8 and army spokeswoman told AFP on Sunday night. Around 160 had been intercepted, she said.
For the first time during the Israeli operation, a rocket fired from Syria hit the Israeli-occupied sector of the Golan heights but landed on empty ground, causing no casualties.
Rockets fired from Lebanon struck northern Israel on Friday and Saturday, also without causing injury.
Early Sunday, Israeli naval commandos staged a brief ground assault in northern Gaza on a mission to destroy longer-range rockets, with the army warning residents to leave the area ahead of a major assault on the sector.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, a senior Israeli military official said the area was rife with rocket launchers and would be targeted in an operation which would begin during the evening.
Hamas told Gazans to ignore the Israeli warnings.