Thousands of Gaza Civilians Flee After Israeli Threats

A Gaza mosque lay in ruins after it was flattened by Israeli air strikes Saturday. EZZ ZANOON \ APAIMAGES/APA /Landov

Thousands of Gaza Civilians Flee After Israeli Threats

Bloodiest day yet of the six-day Israeli assault

Thousands fled their homes in Gaza on Sunday after Israel warned them to leave ahead of threatened attacks on densely populated neighborhoods where Israel claims rocket-launching sites are located. Sunday has been the bloodiest day yet of the six-day Israeli assault which Palestinian officials said has killed at least 166 people including 30 children

Israel says it is preparing for a possible ground incursion, with tanks and artillery amassing along the border with Gaza and with over 33,000 reservists mobilized.

Agence France Pressereports Sunday afternoon that despite troop movements towards the Gaza border, the numbers did not appear consistent with plans for a full-on invasion.

Israeli forces dropped leaflets into the town of Beit Lahiya near Gaza's northern border with Israel. They read: "Those who fail to comply with the instructions to leave immediately will endanger their lives and the lives of their families. Beware."

The Israeli military told the residents of three of Beit Lahiya's 10 neighborhoods to get out of the town of 70,000 by midday on Sunday. U.N. officials said some 4,000 people had fled south to eight schools run by the world body in Gaza City.

A senior Israeli military officer, in a telephone briefing with foreign reporters, said Israel would "strike with might" in the Beit Lahiya area from the late evening hours on Sunday.

He did not say if this would include an expansion of an air and naval offensive into a ground operation in the north of the narrow, densely populated Mediterranean enclave.

Israel has launched more than 1,300 air strikes since the offensive began, the military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner said on Sunday. Palestinians have launched more than 800 rockets at Israel, including 130 in the past 24 hours, the Israeli military said. While several Israelis have been wounded, there have been no fatalities.

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