GAZA/JERUSALEM, July 29 (Reuters) - Israel knocked out Gaza's only power plant, flattened the home of its Islamist Hamas political leader and pounded dozens of other high-profile targets in the enclave on Tuesday, with no end in sight to more than three weeks of conflict.
Health officials said at least 30 Palestinians were killed in some of heaviest bombardments from air, sea and land since the Israeli offensive began in response to Hamas rocket fire.
The Israeli assault intensified following the deaths of 10 Israeli soldiers in cross-border attacks on Monday, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warning of a long conflict ahead.
Thick black smoke rose from blazing fuel tanks at the power station that supplies up to two-thirds of Gaza's energy needs. The local energy authority said initial damage assessments suggested the plant could be out of action for a year.
Electricity was cut to the city of Gaza and many other parts of the Hamas-dominated territory after what officials said was Israeli tank shelling of the tanks containing some 3 million cubic liters of diesel fuel.
"The power plant is finished," said its director, Mohammed al-Sharif. An Israeli military spokeswoman had no immediate comment and said she was checking the report.
Gaza City municipality said damage to the station could halt many of the area's water pumps, and it urged residents to ration water consumption.
A number of rockets were fired from Gaza toward southern and central Israel, including the Tel Aviv area. At least one was intercepted by Israel's Iron Dome anti-missile system. No casualties or damage were reported.
Outside pressure has been building on Netanyahu to rein in his forces. Both U.S. President Barack Obama and the U.N. Security Council have called for an immediate ceasefire to allow relief to reach Gaza's 1.8 million Palestinians, followed by negotiations on a more durable end to hostilities.
Efforts led by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry last week failed to achieve a breakthrough, and the explosion of violence appeared to dash international hopes of turning a brief lull for the Muslim Eid al-Fitr festival into a longer-term ceasefire.
The West Bank-based Palestinian leadership, saying it was also speaking for Hamas and Islamic Jihad in the Gaza Strip, voiced support on Tuesday for a 24-72 hour ceasefire.
But Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri told Reuters the statement by senior Palestine Liberation Organization official Yasser Abed Rabbo did not reflect Hamas's position. "Hamas gave no approval to anything Abed Rabbo said," Abu Zuhri added.
Netanyahu said on Monday the military would not end its offensive until it destroys a network of Hamas tunnels, which Israel says serve as the group's bunkers, weapon caches and cross-border infiltration routes to attack Israelis.
The Israeli military said 70 targets were struck in Gaza during the night, including four weapons caches it said were hidden in mosques, and a rocket launcher near another mosque. Residents said 20 houses were destroyed and two mosques hit.
More than 1,100 Gazans, most of them civilians, have been killed in the conflict. On the Israeli side, 53 soldiers have been killed as well as three civilians.
HAMAS LEADER'S HOME DESTROYED
The main U.N. agency in Gaza, UNRWA, said more than 182,000 displaced Palestinians had taken shelter in its schools and buildings, following calls by Israel for civilians to evacuate whole neighborhoods ahead of military operations. Thousands more have been taken in by friends or family.
Before dawn, Israeli aircraft fired a missile at the house of Hamas Gaza leader Ismail Haniyeh, a former Palestinian prime minister, destroying the structure but causing no casualties, Gaza's Interior Ministry said.
"My house is not dearer than any of the houses of our people," Haniyeh was quoted as saying on a Hamas website. "The destruction of stones will not break our will and we will continue our resistance until we gain freedom."
Hamas, whose internal political leadership is in hiding, said its broadcast outlets Al-Aqsa TV and Al-Aqsa Radio were also targeted. The television station continued to broadcast but the radio station went silent.
The military said the stations were used to "transit orders and messages to Hamas operatives and to instruct Gaza residents to ignore IDF (Israel Defense Forces) warnings regarding upcoming military activity in specific areas."
In a televised address on Monday, Netanyahu said Israel "must be prepared for a lengthy campaign". The military warned thousands of Palestinians to flee their homes around Gaza City - usually the prelude to major army strikes.
Israel launched its offensive on July 8 saying it wanted to halt rocket attacks by Hamas and its allies. It later ordered a land invasion to find and destroy a warren of Hamas tunnels that criss-crosses the border area.
Hamas and Israel have set conditions for a ceasefire that appear irreconcilable.
Israel wants Gaza's armed groups stripped of weapons. Hamas and its allies want an Israeli-Egyptian blockade 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.
In New York, U.N. 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.
(Additional reporting by Michelle Nichols in New York, Writing by Maayan Lubell; Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Paul Taylor)
BEFORE YOU GO
08/08/2014 2:47 PM EDT
White House Concerned By Renewed Fighting
The White House on Friday urged Israel and the Palestinians to resume talks and do what they can to protect civilians after Egyptian-mediated negotiations failed to extend a ceasefire and rocket fire resumed.
"The United States is very concerned about today's developments in Gaza," White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters.
"We condemn the renewed rocket fire and we are concerned about the safety and security of civilians on both sides of that conflict," he said.
08/08/2014 1:42 PM EDT
Official: 5 Palestinians Killed In Gaza
Five Palestinians, including a 10-year-old boy, have been killed in Israeli airstrikes on Gaza since a ceasefire fell apart on Friday, a Palestinian medical official reported to Agence France Presse.
Meanwhile, the Israeli army said Palestinian militants fired 35 rockets into Israel on Friday, injuring a soldier and a civilian.
The father of a ten-year old Palestinian boy, who was killed in an Israeli air strike on the Sheikh Radwan neighbourhood in northern Gaza City, mourns at the city's Al-Shifa hospital, on August 8, 2014. (MOHAMMED ABED/AFP/Getty Images)
08/08/2014 9:23 AM EDT
Palestinian Delegation Says Gaza Talks Will Continue
Palestinian factions will remain in Cairo and press on with Egyptian-mediated talks despite the end of the ceasefire in Gaza, the head of the delegation, Fatah official Azzam Ahmed, said on Friday.
"We are not for escalation. We are ready to continue through our Egyptian brothers in negotiating to reach a final agreement that would return the rights to their owners," Ahmed said. "I mean here lifting the blockade of Gaza."
Ahmed said Palestinian negotiators were due to meet Egyptian intelligence officials, who have been mediating the talks, later in the day. He said Palestinian factions were united in their decision not to extend the 72-hour truce that ended at 0500 GMT and had been clear about their basic demands to end the conflict.
08/08/2014 9:13 AM EDT
Egypt: Agreement Close In Gaza Talks
Egypt called on Friday for an immediate resumption of the ceasefire in Gaza and a return to the negotiating table, saying that only a few outstanding issues remained in negotiations it was mediating between Israel and the Palestinians.
"The foreign ministry calls on all sides to rise to their responsibilities ... and to return immediately to the ceasefire commitment and exploit the opportunity available to resume negotiations on the very limited sticking points that remain in the fastest possible time," the foreign ministry said in a statement.
08/08/2014 3:58 AM EDT
Israeli Airstrikes On Gaza Resume
BREAKING: Israel says it's resumed strikes on Gaza in response to rocket fire, after end of 3-day truce.— The Associated Press (@AP) August 8, 2014
08/08/2014 3:02 AM EDT
Cease-Fire Ends With New Rocket Attacks
A 72-hour cease-fire expired at 8 a.m. today, and not long after, Gaza militants began firing rockets at Israel, The Associated Press reported.
The Israeli military said at least 10 rockets had been fired at Israel since the truce ended. Prior to the attacks, a senior official for Hamas said the militant groups would not extend the cease-fire.
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08/06/2014 2:46 PM EDT
Official: Israel Agrees To Extend Ceasefire
Israel has conditionally agreed to extend a ceasefire that ended a month of fighting in Gaza beyond a Friday deadline, an Israeli official said on Wednesday, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The official did not say for how much longer Israel had agreed to extend the truce, only that: "Israel has expressed its readiness to extend the truce under its current terms," referring to the deal brokered by Egypt that took effect on Tuesday.
Hamas had no immediate comment.
08/06/2014 2:12 PM EDT
IDF: Rocket Sirens Were False Alarm
IDF confirms rocket sirens in southern Israel were false alarm http://t.co/QN677jtlXE— Haaretz.com (@haaretzcom) August 6, 2014
08/06/2014 1:18 PM EDT
Report: Rocket Sirens Sound At Gaza Border
ABC Foreign Editor Jon Williams reports that the IDF have confirmed the rocket sirens are sounding, but are checking to see if it is a false alarm.
08/05/2014 4:20 PM EDT
Israel Arrests Kidnapping Suspect
Reuters reports that Israel has arrested one of the suspects in the kidnapping and killing of three Israeli teenagers in the West Bank in June.
Hussam Kawasme, a 40-year-old resident of the West Bank city of Hebron, was arrested on July 11 in connection with the killing of Israelis Gil-Ad Shaer, Naftali Fraenkel and Eyal Yifrah, who went missing on June 12 and were discovered dead a couple of weeks later.
Their kidnapping sparked a cycle of violence that led to the month-long conflict between Israel and Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip.
Kawasme's arrest was made public for the first time on Tuesday in a document from an Israeli court case over whether houses belonging to him and two other suspects - who remain at large - should be destroyed as a punitive measure.
The lawyers listed as representing Kawasme were not reachable for comment.
The court document said Kawasme had admitted to helping to organize the kidnapping - securing funding from the Hamas Islamist group in Gaza and purchasing weapons which he passed on to the two other suspects who carried out the attack.
Kawasme also helped to bury the bodies of the teenagers in a plot of land he had bought a few months earlier, it said.
Israel has named the other two suspects in the case as Marwan Kawasme and Amar Abu Aysha.