GAZA CITY, Palestinian Territories - Israel told 100,000 Gazans to flee their homes on Wednesday but the warning was largely ignored, as regional leaders made fresh attempts to end the bloody nine-day confrontation.
Israel resumed its punishing air campaign after Egyptian-brokered truce efforts collapsed, while Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas was due both in Cairo and later Ankara in search of regional support for an immediate end to the fighting.
So far, Israel's campaign, now in its ninth day, has killed 209 Palestinians, with a Gaza-based rights group saying over 80 per cent of them were civilians.
In the same period, militants have fired more than 1,200 rockets at Israel, which on Tuesday claimed their first Israeli life.
Warplanes during the night struck about 40 sites across Gaza, among them political targets, as militants also kept up their fire on Israel's coastal plain, with four rockets shot down over metropolitan Tel Aviv.
The Israeli military also dropped flyers and sent text messages warning 100,000 people in northeastern Gaza to evacuate their homes ahead of an air campaign targeting "terror sites and operatives" in Zeitun and Shejaiya, two flashpoint districts east of Gaza City.
An identical message was sent to Beit Lahiya in the north, echoing a similar army warning on Sunday, when more than 17,000 residents of the north fled for their lives, most seeking refuge in UN-run schools.
Nowhere to run to
But for patients at Al-Wafa hospital in Shejaiya, many of whom are paralysed or in a coma, the warning simply provoked even more fear.
"We cannot leave our patients, they are helpless," director Basman Alashi told AFP, saying most of them could were completely incapacitated and in no position to be moved.
"There is no place safe in Gaza! If a hospital is not safe, where is?" he said as the sound of nearby shelling rattled the windows.
The Israeli warnings appeared to have had no immediate effect, with only limited numbers seen leaving. Children picked up many of the flyers and played with them, an AFP correspondent said.
"Where should we go?" asked Faisal Hassan, a father of five who lives in Zeitun.
Hamas dismissed the warning as a scare tactic, telling residents there was "no need to worry".
"This is part of the psychological war, intended to disrupt the domestic front," it said in a statement.
But Israeli President Shimon Peres insisted the warning was to protect the innocent.
"We're trying to defend our own people, as we must, and we're also trying hard not to hit innocent people in Gaza," he said on meeting Italy's top diplomat.