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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Army Takes Steps to Protect Civilians

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip -- It was a phone call Ibrahim Mahmoud says he'll never forget.

The woman on the other end, speaking in Hebrew-accented Arabic, accused the appliance-store owner of being a Hamas militant and informed him the Israeli army would bomb his house. Hours later, after he had already moved 20 relatives out of the four-story building, she called back to tell him she had made a mistake. "Be safe," she said and hung up, Mahmoud said.

Dozens of other Palestinians have recently received similar phone calls, many of them on target, in a new tactic the army says is meant to reduce civilian casualties in its month-long offensive in Gaza. Palestinian officials dismissed the army's claim that the phone calls are meant to reduce deaths. The military is also dropping leaflets from aircraft, warning people to stay away from militants. Also, the army has taken over Hamas radio frequencies for short periods of time, warning residents to distance themselves from the militants.

This week, about 1,000 residents in the southern Gaza city of Khan Younis answered their phones and listened to a recorded message by the Israeli army warning them against harboring militants or hiding weapons.

Government officials said some of the calls reached hospitals and government offices.

The Palestinian phone company said the numbers were apparently picked at random. The army said the calls were to specific homes or areas, but refused to say how it picked the numbers.

Hamas government spokesman Ghazi Hamad dismissed the army's claim that the phone calls were meant to reduce casualties, calling them a "criminal act" meant to drive people out of their homes, paralyze the government, and "demoralize" the population.