Gaza City – The Israeli army intensified its bombing of Gaza on Wednesday, hitting the homes of senior Hamas leaders and carrying out more than 50 airstrikes in a heavily-populated area in the northern strip.
The death toll climbed to 220 people, according to Palestinian medical officials, including 47 children. On Wednesday, four children were killed by naval shelling on a beach.
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More than 1,500 people have been injured. The Israeli army admitted on Wednesday that “about half” of those killed have been civilians; the United Nations puts the figure much higher, closer to 80 percent.
The army also bombed the houses of several senior Hamas leaders, including Mahmoud al-Zahar.
Some of the heaviest bombing was in and around the northern city of Beit Lahia, where the army conducted 50 airstrikes. Israel dropped leaflets and called residents the night before, warning the 100,000 inhabitants of the area to evacuate to other parts of the besieged strip.
Hamas and other groups had fired more than 60 rockets by Wednesday evening, according to the Israeli army, with no injuries or serious damage reported. One Israeli has been killed so far by more than 1,000 rockets launched from Gaza.
Israel on Wednesday morning told hundreds of thousands of residents of border areas to evacuate their neighbourhoods.
The warnings were delivered in automated phone calls, text messages and leaflets dropped from planes. Leaflets were also dropped threatening a new round of air strikes.
“We got leaflets and calls to evacuate,” said Um Mohammed Rahmi, 56, who was fleeing in a donkey-drawn cart with six of her neighbours.
“We don’t know where we are going. We don’t know where we should go… We are just going aimlessly,” she told Al Jazeera.
Hundreds of residents of the neighbourhoods of Zeitoun and Shijaiyah were also seen walking in the streets, carrying small bags with belongings.
“We don’t want to leave our homes, but we do this because of the children. There are many bombings and they get terrified.” said the Um Ramez, as she and her grandchildren in Zeitoun packed the trunk of a car with clothes bags, a box of food and another box of tomato.
Um Ramez told Al Jazeera they were going to her son’s home in the centre of Gaza city, which was “relatively safer”.
The renewed bombing came one day after a failed attempt at a cease-fire proposed by the Egyptian government. It asked Israel and Hamas to halt their fire on Tuesday morning and dispatch envoys to Cairo to discuss further terms.
The Israeli cabinet agreed, but Hamas, which said it was never consulted on the cease-fire, rejected it. Israeli jets resumed bombing the strip on Tuesday afternoon after a six-hour lull.
Ha’aretz reported on Wednesday that the cease-fire was conceived in a secret telephone call between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.
The Egyptian plan met none of the demands Hamas has outlined for ending the conflict, beyond a vague promise to ease the blockade of Gaza “once the security situation stabilises”.
Channel 2 reported that the group had proposed its own truce, offering ten years of calm in exchange for a complete lifting of the siege and the release of dozens of prisoners detained over the past month. There was no immediate response from the Israeli government.
Meanwhile, the West Bank remains quiet, despite widespread anger at the Israeli offensive. The Palestinian Authority has tried to avoid escalation, and has pressured activists not to stage protests.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was in Cairo on Wednesday to meet with Sisi and discuss a cease-fire. But he has largely stayed quiet about the war, and his silence has cost him support among Palestinians.
A small group did hold a peaceful rally outside of Ofer prison near Ramallah, which was quickly broken up by Israeli forces, who fired tear gas and foul-smelling “skunk water” to disperse the demonstrators.
“The effect is very clear, there’s been an increase in popular support for Hamas, and a decline for the Palestinian Authority and [Abbas],” said Ghassan Khatib, a former spokesman for the government.
“People here in the West Bank of course support resistance, and when they put the PA in comparison, it’s playing against their popularity.”