Israel Pounds Gaza; Netanyahu Warns of Long Campaign

Israel's military stepped up its bombardment of the Gaza Strip on Tuesday after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said his country should be prepared for a long conflict in the Palestinian enclave, quashing any hopes of a swift end to the conflict.

Palestinian health officials say attacks from Israeli warplanes and tanks have killed at least 100 people Tuesday in the most widespread attacks since fighting began three weeks ago. The Palestinian death toll has climbed to more than 1,100, mainly civilians.

Israel has lost 53 soldiers, two Israeli civilians and a Thai worker since launching its offensive July 8 in response to rocket attacks from Hamas and its allies.

Israeli tank fire hit the fuel depot of the Gaza Strip's only power plant on Tuesday, witnesses said, cutting electricity to Gaza City and many other parts of the Palestinian enclave of 1.8 million people. Electricity already had been limited to several hours a day.

Israel targeted symbols of Hamas control, firing on the house of Hamas Gaza leader Ismail Haniyeh before dawn on Tuesday, causing damage but no casualties, Gaza's interior ministry said.

Hamas said its broadcast outlets, Al-Aqsa TV and Al-Aqsa Radio also were targeted. Early Tuesday, at least two major explosions hit the media building, one of the tallest in Gaza, starting a fire on the roof and shaking surrounding buildings.

The television station continued to broadcast, but the radio station went silent.

The Abu Khadra government complex in Gaza City was badly damaged, and two mosques were hit. Residents also said 20 houses were destroyed during the night.

◆ Ready for Truce?

The Palestine Liberation Organization says Palestinians, including Hamas and Islamic jihad leaderships, are ready for a 24-hour truce. PLO Secretary-General Yasser Abed Rabbo added that Palestinians are favorably considering a U.N. proposal to extend the humanitarian cease-fire to 72 hours.

Hamas has not confirmed the PLO truce statement.

In a televised address Monday night, a grim-faced Netanyahu said any solution to the crisis would require the demilitarization of the Palestinian territory, controlled by Hamas Islamists and their militant allies.

"We will not finish the mission, we will not finish the operation without neutralizing the tunnels, which have the sole purpose of destroying our citizens, killing our children," Netanyahu said, adding that it had been a "painful day."

"We need to be prepared for a protracted campaign. We will continue to act with force and discretion until our mission is accomplished," Netanyahu said.

Also Tuesday, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Israel was committing "genocide" in Gaza and said the Islamic world should be working to arm the Palestinian people.

A Palestinian firefighter works during efforts to extinguish a fire at Gazas main power plant, which witnesses said was hit in Israeli shelling, in the central Gaza Strip on July 29, 2014. /Reuters A Palestinian firefighter works during efforts to extinguish a fire at Gaza's main power plant, which witnesses said was hit in Israeli shelling, in the central Gaza Strip on July 29, 2014. /Reuters

◆ Hundreds of Flares

Israeli forces fired hundreds of flares that turned the night sky bright orange. By daybreak Tuesday, a cloud of thick dust from the explosions hung over Gaza City.

Israel's defense forces continue to seek and destroy the warren of Hamas tunnels that criss-crosses the border area.

An opinion poll broadcast by Israel's Channel 10 television showed overwhelming public support for continuing the Gaza offensive until Hamas is "disarmed."

Hamas leaders remained defiant in the aftermath of the Israeli onslaught.

"My house is not more valuable than the houses of other people, destroying stones will not break our determination," Hamas Gaza leader  Haniyeh said in a statement after Tuesday's attack on his home.

The overnight strikes came after a day of heavy Hamas-Israeli fighting in which at least eight children were killed by a strike while playing outside, according to Palestinian health officials. Each side blames the other for the tragedy.

Israeli tanks also resumed heavy shelling in Gaza's border areas, killing five people, including three children and a 70-year-old woman, and wounding 50 in the town of Jebaliya. It was among the areas warned to evacuate, the Red Crescent said.

A number of rockets fired from Gaza were launched toward southern and central Israel, including the Tel Aviv area. At least one rocket was intercepted by the Iron Dome system. No casualties or damage were reported.

◆ Ceasefire Negotiations

Foreign pressure has been building on Netanyahu to muzzle his forces.

Both U.S. President Barack Obama and the UN Security Council called for an immediate cease-fire to allow relief to reach Palestinians, followed by negotiations on a more durable halt to hostilities.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed concern about the reports of Israeli forces dropping leaflets over northern Gaza Monday evening warning tens of thousands of residents to leave their homes and evacuate to Gaza City, according to a statement released by his spokesman.

"If true, this would have a further devastating humanitarian impact on the beleaguered civilians of those areas of the Gaza Strip, who have already undergone immense suffering in recent days," it said. "The United Nations agencies present in Gaza do not have the resources on the ground to cope with, or provide assistance to, an enormous extra influx of desperate people."

Ban deplored what he said was a lack of resolve among all parties.

"It's a matter of their political will. They have to show their humanity as leaders, both Israeli and Palestinian," he told reporters.

◆ Tension Over US Mediation Efforts

After three weeks of bloodshed, both Israel and Hamas are holding out for bigger gains and a cease-fire remains elusive, despite an appeal by the UN Security Council and growing pressure from the United States.

Israel says its troops will not leave Gaza until they have demolished scores of Hamas military tunnels under the Gaza-Israel border. Hamas says it will not cease fire until it receives international guarantees that Gaza's 7-year-old border blockade by Egypt and Israel will be lifted.

Tension between Netanyahu's government and Washington has flared over U.S. mediation efforts, adding another chapter to the prickly relations between the Israeli leader and Obama.

On Monday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry continued his push for a bilateral cease-fire, despite mounting Israeli media criticism of his efforts.

The Obama administration rallied to Kerry's defense, rejecting Israeli commentary describing U.S. proposals as being more favorable to Hamas and dismissive of key Israeli concerns. 

U.S.-led negotiations over 20 years have brokered no permanent peace deal.

The most recent round collapsed in April, with Palestinians livid over Jewish settlement building in the occupied West Bank and Israelis furious that Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas had signed a unity pact with old foe Hamas.

In New York, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon deplored what he said was a lack of resolve among all parties.

"It's a matter of their political will. They have to show their humanity as leaders, both Israeli and Palestinian," he told reporters.

Some information for this report provided by Reuters, AP and AFP.

VOA News / Jul. 30, 2014 08:24 KST