News Middle East

Sunday 21 September 2014

New ceasefire bid as 100 die in a day of shock and awe attacks

Robert Tait Gaza City and Richard Spencer in Cairo

Published 30/07/2014 | 02:30

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Palestinians inspect the damage at the Ameen mosque in Gaza City, northern Gaza Strip, destroyed by an Israeli strike, Tuesday, July 29, 2014. Early Tuesday, Israel warplanes struck a series of targets in Gaza City, including the top Hamas leader in Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh's house and government offices, while Gaza's border area with Israel was hit by heavy tank shelling. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)
Palestinians inspect the damage at the Ameen mosque in Gaza City, northern Gaza Strip, destroyed by an Israeli strike. AP
A Palestinian firefighter reacts as he tries to put out a fire at Gaza's main power plant, which witnesses said was hit in Israeli shelling, in the central Gaza Strip July 29, 2014.  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.An Israeli military spokeswoman had no immediate comment and said she was checking the report. Israel launched its Gaza offensive on July 8, saying its aim was to halt rocket attacks by Hamas and its allies. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem
A Palestinian firefighter reacts as he tries to put out a fire at Gaza's main power plant, which witnesses said was hit in Israeli shelling, in the central Gaza Strip. Reuters
Israeli female soldiers morn during the funeral of Sergeant Sagi Erez, an infantry soldier training to be a squad commander, during his funeral at the military cemetery in Haifa, northern Israel, Tuesday, July 29, 2014. Erez, 19, was killed Monday in combat after Gaza militants used a tunnel to sneak into Israel.  Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday that Israel must be ready for a "prolonged" military operation in the Gaza Strip. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)
Israeli female soldiers morn during the funeral of Sergeant Sagi Erez, an infantry soldier training to be a squad commander, during his funeral at the military cemetery in Haifa, northern Israel. AP

FRESH attempts at a ceasefire in Gaza were being forged last night in Cairo after the heaviest Israeli attack on the enclave yet left at least 100 people dead and its only power plant crippled.

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After days of insistence by both sides that they would keep up the fighting, rumours of a ceasefire – which may turn out only to be a truce of 24 hours – started to spread during the course of the afternoon.

An Egyptian foreign ministry spokesman said last night that "nothing concrete had been agreed" but confirmed Cairo was talking to all the parties, which include not only Israel and Hamas, which runs Gaza, but the Palestinian Authority and Islamic Jihad, a second Gaza militant group.

John Kerry, the US secretary of state, said Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, had indicated he was willing to negotiate a ceasefire in a telephone conversation on Monday night.

Hamas rejected suggestions by negotiators for the Palestinian Authority that it had agreed to a deal, saying Israel had to make the first move, but did not rule one out.

"When we have an Israeli commitment on a humanitarian truce, we will look into it but we will never declare a truce from our side while the occupation keeps killing our children," its spokesman Sami Abu Zukhri said.

British Prime Minister David Cameron yesterday called for an "unconditional, immediate, humanitarian ceasefire" in Gaza. He blamed Hamas for the outbreak of the conflict.

"Hamas must stop attacking Israel with rocket attacks. That is how this started. It's completely unjustified and they need to stop as part of the ceasefire," he said.

In Gaza itself, thick black smoke billowed above the electricity plant's eight towers, more than 12 hours after an Israeli shell hit a fuel tank, starting a huge blaze and causing damage that will take 18 months to fix.

The shell was part of a massive overnight bombardment, which brought the number of Palestinian deaths to 1,190. Israel has lost 53 soldiers, while two Israeli civilians and a Thai guest worker have been killed by Hamas rocket fire.

The dead Palestinians included multiple members of at least five families who were pulled from the rubble yesterday after air strikes and tank shelling struck their homes. Among the victims were the mayor of a refugee camp and his 70-year-old father, according to the Palestinian Red Crescent.

Israeli warplanes carried out dozens of attacks yesterday, levelling the home of Ismail Haniyeh, the top Hamas leader in Gaza, and damaging the offices of the movement's Al-Aqsa satellite television station, a mosque in Gaza City and government offices.

Haniyeh's house, in a narrow alley of the Shati refugee camp, was reduced to rubble but no one was hurt. Haniyeh said in a statement yesterday that "destroying stones will not break our determination".

The strike on the power plant compounded shortages caused by damage earlier in the fighting to eight out of 10 power lines supplied by Israel.

The immediate result was a water crisis, with power supplies no longer adequate to pump water above the ground floor of any building in a territory containing a large number of multi-storey flats, where water tanks are placed on roofs.

Specialists also said Gaza's six waste treatment plants would pump out raw sewage within days if the electricity shortage was not addressed. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Telegraph.co.uk

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