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Palestinians Flee Gaza After Israel Drops Warning Leaflets

Palestinians flee their homes to take shelter at the United Nations school in Gaza City, on Sunday. Israel has dropped leaflets warning residents to leave ahead of stepped up fighting.
Hatem Moussa
Palestinians flee their homes to take shelter at the United Nations school in Gaza City, on Sunday. Israel has dropped leaflets warning residents to leave ahead of stepped up fighting.

This post was updated at 4:45 p.m. ET.

Thousands of people are fleeing a border town in the Gaza Strip after Israel dropped leaflets warning of stepped up attacks on the sixth day of an offensive. Meanwhile, an Israeli commando squad crossed into Gaza today to destroy a Hamas rocket-launching site.

The commando raid is the first incursion of Israeli troops into Gaza since the beginning of the offensive, which Palestinian health officials say has killed 170 and wounded more than 1,100 others.

NPR's Ari Shapiro, reporting from Jerusalem, says that up until now, it's been entirely an air war. The deployment of the Israeli commandos, who arrived from Gaza's Mediterranean side via an amphibious operation, represents "a significant shift, but it's not yet the all-out invasion that many fear," Ari tells Weekend Edition Sunday.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reiterated Sunday that the Israeli army was "prepared for any possibility."

"I don't know when the operation will end, it might take much more time," Netanyahu said in broadcast remarks before his weekly Cabinet meeting.

The air-dropped leaflets warned Gaza residents that failure to comply with instructions to evacuate "will endanger their lives and the loves of their families," according to Reuters. The area is home to at least 100,000 people.

The BBC quotes the Israel's military as confirming that it dropped leaflets in the area this morning.

"We do not wish to harm civilians in Gaza, but these civilians must know that remaining in close proximity to Hamas terrorists and infrastructures is extremely unsafe," the IDF said.

On Saturday night, Hamas made good on threats to fire rockets on Tel Aviv.

Reuters says:

"Those rockets and the ones unleashed on Sunday were intercepted by the Israeli-built, and partly U.S.-funded, Iron Dome missile defense system that has proved effective against Hamas's most powerful weaponry.

"No one has been killed by the more than 800 rockets the Israeli military said has been fired since the offensive began, and during Saturday night's barrage, customers in Tel Aviv beachfront cafes shouted their approval as they watched the projectiles being shot out of the sky."

Families in the northern border town of Beit Lahiya "are piling their kids and belongings into carts and cars and crowding into schools for shelter," NPR's Emily Harris reports from Gaza.

Palestinians in cars, motorbikes and donkey carts are following Gaza's main road south to escape the fighting, Emily says.

Jamil Sultan, traveling on a cart with two grandchildren tells NPR that he couldn't sleep last night "because of the shooting and bombing."

"Then today the Israelis told us to leave," he says. "They called on the phone and said to go this morning. We left our clothes and personal things at home. We brought things to sleep and sit on."

The Associated Press says:

"On Sunday, Palestinians with foreign passports began leaving Gaza through the Erez border crossing. Israel, which is cooperating in the evacuation, says 800 Palestinians living in Gaza have passports from countries including Australia, the United Kingdom and the U.S.

"U.S. citizen Ahmed Mohana said he had mixed feelings about leaving friends and family behind in the troubled Gaza Strip.

" 'It is very hard, it is very tough,' he said. 'We are leaving our family, our relatives and brothers and sisters in this horrible situation — we have to do what we have to do.' "

A spokesman for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) noted a "dramatic rise" in the number of people coming to the agency's shelters.

"Thousands of people are on the move and approximately 17,000 displaced people have come to UNRWA shelters seeking sanctuary from bombardment," Chris Gunness says. "In response UNRWA has doubled the number of shelters it is running for displaced people from 10 to 20. So there are now 17,000 people in 20 UNRWA shelters."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Scott Neuman is a reporter and editor, working mainly on breaking news for NPR's digital and radio platforms.
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