Israel calls for north Gaza residents to evacuate after brief ground raid as offensive widens

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JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel is warning residents of northern Gaza to evacuate their homes as it widens its offensive.

With Israel massing tanks and soldiers at Gaza's borders, some fear a wider ground offensive is imminent. Prime Minister Benjamin Netayahu told a Cabinet meeting today: "It might take a long time."

Palestinians with foreign passports have been leaving Gaza through a border crossing into Israel, which is cooperating in the evacuation.

Early today, Israeli troops launched a brief raid into northern Gaza to destroy what the military describes as a rocket-launching site. Four soldiers were wounded.

Neither Israel nor Palestinian militants show signs of agreeing to a cease-fire, despite calls by the United Nations Security Council and others to end the increasingly bloody six-day offensive.

Israel says it has launched more than 1,300 air strikes since the offensive began, while Palestinian militants have launched more than 800 rockets at Israel. The Palestinian death toll has risen to more than 160. There have been no Israeli fatalities.

Pope leads crowd in silent prayer for Mideast

VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis has led tens of thousands of people in St. Peter's Square in unannounced, silent prayer for an end to the warfare in the Mideast.

Francis called for insistent prayers for peace in the Holy Land during his Sunday window appearance to pilgrims and tourists.

He said he didn't consider "in vain" the June 8 peace prayer gathering he hosted at the Vatican attended by the Israeli and Palestinian presidents. Francis, who made a Mideast pilgrimage in May, urged people to avoid concluding that "violence and hatred win out over dialogue and reconciliation."

Last week, Israel widened its air assault on the Gaza Strip's Hamas rulers, and militant rockets have targeted Israel. Francis lamented the recent "tragic events."

International diplomacy is aiming to stop the warfare.