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Alliance News

Hamas Denies Truce After Deadliest 24 Hours In Middle East Fighting

Tue, 29th Jul 2014 15:12

Gaza/Ramallah/Tel Aviv (Alliance News) - The Gaza Strip's sole power plant was in flames after coming under artillery fire at dawn Tuesday, as violence escalated after an unofficial truce for the three-day Eid al-Fitr holiday fell apart.

Hamas, the Islamist movement that governs Gaza, denied it had accepted a unilateral 24-hour truce, after the worst 24 hours in three weeks of fighting with Israel.

More than 100 Palestinians were killed in air strikes, Gaza Health Ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Qedra said. At least 19 Hamas militants and 10 Israeli soldiers died in ground clashes.

A senior aide to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said after an emergency meeting in Ramallah that Hamas, the Islamic Jihad and other armed groups in Gaza had agreed to observe a humanitarian truce for 24 hours, with immediate effect, which could be extended to 72 hours as requested by the United Nations.

Yasser Abed Rabbo said he made the announcement after intensive consultations with "our brothers in the leadership of Hamas and the Islamic Jihad."

But Hamas' spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri quickly denied the truce, saying "the resistance movement (Hamas) will be the one to announce its position" and not an aide to President Abbas.

"When we get an Israeli commitment with international guarantees regarding a humanitarian truce, then we will study it. But to declare a unilateral ceasefire while the occupying forces are killing our children, then this will not be," said Abu Zuhir.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's spokesman, Mark Regev, had no immediate comment.

Fathi al-Sheikh Khalil, the deputy head of Gaza's energy authority, said the flames at Gaza's sole power plant had been caused by an artillery shell.

Huge pillars of black smoke could be seen rising from the complex.

Khalil spoke of potentially "disastrous" consequences for the coastal enclave of 1.8 million people, many of whom depend on the plant for electricity.

Gazans have been living with rationed electricity for years. Many use petrol-operated generators during the daily power outages, but gasoline is running short during the current crisis.

Also Tuesday, Israeli jets struck the house of Ismail Haniya, the deputy chief of the Islamist Hamas movement, in western Gaza City.

No injuries were reported and neither Haniya nor his family were at home when it was destroyed by the missiles but the house was badly damaged, Hamas' al-Aqsa television reported.

An estimated 150 targets throughout the strip were struck from the air in one of the heaviest nights of bombardments since the start of Israel's three-week-old offensive in Gaza.

Nine Palestinians were killed in a pre-dawn attack on a house in the refugee camp of al-Bureij, Gaza Health Ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Qedra said.

Seven members of one family were killed when their house was hit in the southern town of Rafah, he added.

Throughout central and southern Israel, residents also spent a sleepless night punctuated by the wail of air raid sirens.

Armed groups launched a barrage of rockets at the greater Tel Aviv area. At least two missiles landed on open ground, witnesses said, and at least one other was intercepted in mid-air by Israel's missile defence system.

It was the first time that the seaside metropolis was targeted by night-time rocket fire.

Ten soldiers were confirmed killed in attacks Monday, which marked one of the deadliest days yet for Israeli forces since the offensive began on July 8.

Five soldiers were killed in a clash with Gaza militants, who smuggled into southern Israel through a tunnel near a kibbutz, a military spokeswoman said. One of the militants was also killed.

Four other soldiers were killed in a mortar attack inside Israel, and another died when an anti-tank missile was fired at his bulldozer.

Hamas's armed wing, the Qassam Brigades, said 19 of its militants died in fighting Monday.

The group claimed responsibility for the tunnel attack and for launching missiles at Ashkelon and Tel Aviv Monday night.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said he was concerned about Israeli leaflets being dropped from planes, which told residents to move to Gaza City - a move that sparked fears of further bombardments.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas had called late Monday night for an end to the "massacres" in the Gaza Strip.

His appeal came as Netanyahu told Israelis to prepare for a "lengthy campaign" in Gaza.

Netanyahu said the offensive would not stop until it had destroyed tunnels used by militants to infiltrate Israel.

Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon said the ground operation against the tunnels would be completed in the coming days.

Seventeen of 31 known tunnels have been blown up, the military said.

More than 1,130 Palestinians, mostly civilians and including at least 212 children, are estimated to have been killed in the fighting. Fifty-three Israeli soldiers have been killed, as well as two Israeli civilians and a Thai national.

The campaign, entering its 22nd day Tuesday, is about to surpass Cast Lead, a major 22-day offensive in early 2009, which left 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis dead.

In Israel, commentators have already begun to compare it with the second Lebanon war, which lasted 33 days and killed over 1,200 Lebanese and 163 Israelis, of them 119 soldiers, according to the Foreign Ministry.

Copyright dpa

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