Armored vehicle in Gaza
Photo: Reuters
IDF advancing in Gaza; thousands fleeing homes
Tanks shell downtown Gaza City, ground troops enter crowded Tel Hawwa neighborhood for the first time; sources say thousands of residents fleeing for cover

Israeli tanks shelled downtown Gaza City on Thursday and ground troops thrust deep into the crowded Tel Hawwa neighborhood for the first time, sending thousands of terrified residents fleeing for cover and increasing pressure on Hamas rulers to accept a proposed ceasefire to end Israel's devastating offensive.


The Israeli military would not discuss its operations and it was not clear whether the intensified assault on Gaza City signaled a new phase in the three-week-old Israeli campaign that Gaza health officials say has already killed more than 1,000 Palestinians. Thirteen Israelis have been killed since the offensive began, according to the military.


Israel has balked at all-out urban warfare in the narrow alleyways of Gaza's big cities, where Hamas militants are more familiar with the lay of the land and Israeli casualties would be liable to spiral. But Palestinian witnesses said Israeli tanks fired shells at least three high-rise buildings in the downtown area as ground troops advanced into a crowded residential area on the outskirts of the city.


Earlier Palestinian sources reported that a woman and her three children in an IDF attack in the northern Gaza town of Beit Lahiya. The attack was apparently not an air raid.


According to the Palestinians, 24 people have been killed by IDF fire since the early morning hours, including five in an attack on a building in the Sheikh Zaid neighborhood near Beit Lahiya. Two more Palestinians were killed during an Israeli attack that took place near the home of senior Hamas figure Mahmoud al-Zahar. Another two people were killed when a vehicle was hit as it was travelling in Gaza City's Zeitoun neighborhood.


Sources in the Strip said four people were killed from IDF artillery fire in south Gaza, and the bodies of 15 others were pulled from the rubble of a number of structures throughout the Strip.


Gaza Health Ministry officials said the Israeli offensive has killed at least 1,060 Palestinians, about half of them civilians, including 300 children and teenagers. More than 4,500 Palestinians have been wounded, they said.


Meanwhile, the rocket barrages on south Israel resumed Thursday morning, but no injuries were reported. A Qassam fired toward Sderot damaged a building and several vehicles. Several people were treated for shock.


Ali Waked contributed to the report 


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