Palestinians living in northern Gaza have been warned by the Israeli military to leave their homes ahead of a planned offensive against that part of the strip. The order to evacuate was given in a statement on Saturday evening, with Palestinians told to leave "for their own safety".
According to AP, further notices are expected to be given overnight with Israeli military spokesperson Motti Almoz forewarning that the IDF planned to strike the area with heavy force in the next 24 hours. According to the Israeli government, the northern part of Gaza has been used to fire rockets at Tel Aviv by Hamas militants.
Speaking to the Jerusalem Post, an IDF source said: "We are moving to a more significant phase. Since the leaders are hiding under homes and using human shields, we are initiating the evacuation of civilians in Gaza before stepping up attacks. Until now, we've tried to use minimal force to lower civilian casualties. That explains how, even though we have hit 1300 targets, the civilian casualty rate is so low."
Israeli ground troops remain amassed on the Gaza border in preparation for a ground invasion of Palestine. The Israeli government has warned Hamas that an end to the air assault will only come if the rocket attacks into Israel cease, with militants firing hundreds of projectiles into the Israeli heartland over the past week.
Earlier on Saturday, Israel stepped up its air assault against Gaza, an escalation in which a mosque and an Islamic home for the disabled were hit. According to AP, the offensive, which is now in its fifth day, has led to the death of at least 135 Palestinians. The rising death toll comes amid growing international outcry over the Gaza assault, with the UN Security Council calling for a cease-fire.