*** ----> Palestinians flee battles as mediators push for truce deal | THE DAILY TRIBUNE | KINGDOM OF BAHRAIN

Palestinians flee battles as mediators push for truce deal

AFP | Gaza

The Daily Tribune - www.newsofbahrain.com

Palestinians yesterday fled heavy battles in Gaza City as the Israeli military expanded an evacuation order nine months into its war with Hamas militants.

While fighting raged, Hamas and Israel staked their claims for truce talks as mediators Egypt and Qatar were due to host new meetings this week, according to officials. Israeli troops and tanks pushed into parts of Gaza City, in the besieged territory’s north, and battled Palestinians.

Thousands were on the move again, according to the Civil Defence agency in the Hamas-run territory. Witnesses said messages on loudspeakers urged civilians to leave Gaza City’s Al-Daraj and Al-Tuffah neighbourhoods. T

he Israeli military called on Palestinians to leave parts of Gaza City’s west, the army’s Arabic-language spokesman Avichay Adraee said on social media, expanding its evacuation zone in the territory’s biggest city with the third order in less than two weeks.

AFP photographers saw Palestinians leave on foot, bikes and on donkey carts, carrying their belongings through rubble-strewn streets.

Muhammad Bisan said he had been through “an indescribable night” in Gaza City. “Planes and artillery are bombing and drones are firing from all directions, and we do not know where to run, right or left,” he said.

Elsewhere in Gaza, AFPTV images showed Palestine Red Crescent members removing a body from the rubble after a strike in Jabalia, another Gaza City district.

Israel’s military reported strikes on targets in the Rafah and Khan Yunis areas of southern Gaza. Diplomatic efforts to halt the fighting aim for an initial sixweek ceasefire that would see some hostages in Gaza freed in exchange for Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, but talks would continue for a comprehensive deal to end the war.

Hamas has signalled it would drop its insistence on a “complete” ceasefire, a demand Israel has repeatedly rejected.

A top Hamas official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told AFP that mediators had offered assurances “that as long as the... negotiations continued, the ceasefire would continue”.