Israel widens air campaign against Gaza

Power plant destroyed as peace efforts appear stalled

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GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Israel’s aerial assaults on targets in Gaza broadened Tuesday, with barrages that destroyed Hamas’ media offices, the home of a top leader and what Palestinians said was a devastating hit on the only electricity plant, plunging the enclave of 1.7 million people into deeper deprivation with no power, running water or sewage treatment.

The intensified assaults on the battle’s 22nd day came as diplomacy toward a cease-fire sputtered forward, despite apparent confusion and mixed signals.

Israel’s military made clear that it had widened the scope of the bombing campaign in Gaza to hit the political structures of Hamas and another militant group, Islamic Jihad, including the home of Ismael Haniya, the No. 2 Hamas official behind Khaled Meshal, its leader-in-exile in Qatar. But Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, an Israeli military spokesman, said it was unclear whether Israel had been responsible for the debilitating strike on the power plant, where an enormous fire hurtled thick, black smoke skyward, visible for miles.

Palestinian health officials in Gaza said at least 70 people were killed in the attacks Tuesday, vaulting the death toll in the past three weeks to nearly 1,200. Fifty-three Israeli soldiers and three civilians on the Israeli side have been killed.

The shutdown of the power plant — which Israel previously attacked in 2006, and which sat idle for weeks this past winter for lack of fuel — threatened to turn the situation in Gaza into a major humanitarian crisis.

The facility powers water and sewage systems as well as hospitals, and it had been Gaza’s main source of electricity in recent days after eight of 10 lines that run from Israel were damaged.

“Today, there is no electricity in Gaza,” said Jamal Dardasawi of Gaza’s electricity distribution company, noting that the power supplied by Egypt is not even enough for the southern city of Rafah. “The shelling of the station is a violation of all red lines.”

Rafiq Maliha, director of Gaza’s power plant, said it would probably take “months or a year” to repair it. Mr. Maliha said the shells had hit the main fuel tank, the fuel-treatment facility and two turbines.

The strikes, during the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr, came after the latest humanitarian halt to hostilities collapsed because of attacks on both sides, culminating in the most deadly incursion yet by Palestinian militants through a tunnel from Gaza into Israel. Col. Lerner said Tuesday that between four and eight gunmen had burst from the tunnel near a military watchtower alongside the border and killed five soldiers in an adjacent building with anti-tank missiles.

Col. Lerner said Israel had identified the tunnel, near the kibbutz Nahal Oz, as part of its objective to destroy underground pathways from Gaza into Israel, the stated goal of the Israeli ground invasion that began July 17.

The intensified Israeli assaults came as renewed attempts to create a cease-fire swirled, with no clear sign of any momentum, one day after Israeli leaders told their citizens to prepare themselves for a longer conflict.

The West Bank-based Palestinian leadership, led by President Mahmoud Abbas, announced that the Palestinian factions fighting in Gaza were ready for another immediate 24-hour truce, and that efforts were underway for a Palestinian delegation to head to Cairo for broader cease-fire talks.

But Sami Abu Zuhri, a Hamas spokesman in Gaza, immediately responded in a text message that the announcement of a unilateral, 24-hour truce was “incorrect and has nothing to do with the positions of the resistance.”

The announcement was greeted with skepticism in Israel. Mark Regev, spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said, “This is just another example of them rejecting cease-fires.”

Still, the Palestinian announcement seemed to be part of a larger effort involving Egypt, an important participant in any cease-fire deal for both Israel and Abbas. The Egyptian Foreign Ministry said Mr. Abbas had initiated a proposal to bring representatives of the Palestine Liberation Organization, Hamas and Islamic Jihad to Cairo for another round of cease-fire talks, which Egypt supports.

israel - egypt - Middle East - Africa - John Kerry - Mahmoud Abbas - Jerusalem - Palestinian territories - North Africa - Israeli armed forces - Israel government - Palestinian territories government - Gaza Strip - Benjamin Netanyahu - Cairo - Hamas - Gaza - Khaled Meshal - Palestine Liberation Organization


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