ISRAEL escalated its military campaign against Hamas in Gaza on Tuesday, in an offensive which killed 109 Palestinians and shut down the area's only power plant - marking the heaviest day of bombardment in the conflict so far.
At least 36 of the 100 people killed were hit by airstrikes and tank shelling on five homes, according to Palestinian health officials and the Palestinian Red Crescent.
In one strike in the northern refugee camp of Jebaliya on Tuesday afternoon, 10 members of one family were killed and 50 people were wounded in tank shelling, officials said. In the evening, residents of the sprawling camp in northern Gaza continued to report intense shelling and two brothers driving in a car with markings of a UN aid agency were reportedly killed by shrapnel, a resident claimed.
Earlier on Tuesday, Anas Abu Shamaleh, the 50-year-old mayor of the central Gaza refugee camp of Bureij, his 70-year-old father, and three of their relatives were among eleven people killed in a strike on a house, according to Palestinian health officials and the Palestinian Red Crescent.
Meanwhile at the power station, thick black smoke continued to rise from its burning fuel tank hours after it was struck by two tank shells. Crew members working at the scene had been trapped by the fire for several hours, but had since been evacuated, according to Fathi Sheik Khalil of the Gaza Energy Authority.
The shutdown of the station will leave most of the 1.7 million people living in the narrow territory without power. Water will also be affected, since electricity is needed to operate pumps.
Prior to the fire, damage to power lines during the conflict meant residents in Gaza only had electricity for around three hours a day.
"We need at least one year to repair the power plant, the turbines, the fuel tanks and the control room," said Khalil. "Everything was burned," he added.
Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, an Israeli military spokesman, did not comment on the explosion at the plant, but told AP reporters that Israel's latest strikes signal "a gradual increase in the pressure" on Hamas. He added Israel is "determined to strike this organization and relieve us of this threat."
The conflict's overall death toll in Palestine has reached at least 1,210, according to Gaza Health Ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Kidra. He added that 7,000 Palestinians had been wounded, with 16 people dying of injuries sustained on previous days. Israel has reported that 53 soldiers and three civilians, including one Thai national, have been killed.
Tens of thousands of Gazans have been displaced by fighting in the border areas, which have come under heavy tank fire.
As part of Israel's attacks on Tuesday, warplanes flattened the home of Ismail Haniyeh, the top Hamas leader in Gaza, and damaged the offices of the movement's Al-Aqsa satellite TV station. A central mosque in Gaza City and government offices were also hit.
Although Haniyeh's house was levelled, no one was hurt. Following the attack, residents placed a large framed portrait of Haniyeh atop the wreckage, and draped it with green Hamas flags and Palestinian national banners. Haniyeh said in a statement on Tuesday that "destroying stones will not break our determination."
The strikes came as part of Israel's offensive against the homes of several Hamas leaders. None have been killed - presumably because they have kept a low profile.
The heavy strikes were a further blow to international efforts to reach a sustainable truce. In the West Bank, a top Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) official offered a 24-hour truce on Tuesday, and claimed to speak in the name of Hamas. But Izzat Rishq, a senior Hamas official in exile responded by saying it wanted to hear from Israel first. An Israeli government spokesman, Mark Regev, declined comment.
The largest group in the PLO is the Fatah movement of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Hamas' main political rival. Hamas is not a member.
On Monday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned that Israel's campaign against Hamas would be "prolonged".
Prior to Netanyahu's televised addressed, UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, warned both Israel and Hama that: "there must be accountability and justice for crimes committed by all sides."
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