Israel continues Gaza offensive; Egypt revises truce plan
GAZA/JERUSALEM — Israel knocked out Gaza’s only power plant and pounded dozens of other high-profile targets on Tuesday, while Egyptian mediators prepared a revised proposal for halting its war with Islamist guerrillas in the enclave.
Israel’s Channel Two TV said progress was being made on such a deal in Cairo, where a Palestinian delegation is expected later on Tuesday, although the station retracted an earlier report that a truce had already been provisionally agreed.Health officials said at least 85 Palestinians died in some of heaviest bombardments from air, sea and land since Israel’s offensive began on July 8 in response to rocket salvoes fired by Gaza’s dominant Hamas Islamists and their guerrilla allies.
Local hospital officials put the total number of Palestinian dead in the conflict at 1,200, most of them civilians. On the Israeli side, 53 soldiers and three civilians have been killed.
UNRWA, the main U.N. relief agency in Gaza, said it was at “breaking point” with more than 200,000 Palestinians having taken shelter in its schools and buildings following calls by Israel for civilians to evacuate whole neighborhoods before military operations.
The Israeli assault intensified after the deaths of 10 soldiers in Palestinian cross-border attacks on Monday, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warning of a long conflict ahead.
The army said it needed about a week to complete its main mission of destroying cross-border infiltration tunnels and there has been strong Israeli public support for holding course.
In a bid to boost Palestinian morale and demoralize Israel, Hamas TV aired footage it said showed its fighters using a tunnel to reach an army watchtower on Monday. They are seen surprising an Israeli sentry, at which point they open fire and storm the watchtower compound to surround a fallen soldier.
Mohammed Deif, the shadowy leader of Hamas’s armed wing, said in a voiceover message in the broadcast that Palestinians would continue confronting Israel until its blockade on Gaza — which is supported by neighboring Egypt — was lifted.
“The occupying entity will not enjoy security unless our people live in freedom and dignity,” Deif said. “There will be no ceasefire before the (Israeli) aggression is stopped and the blockade is lifted. We will not accept interim solutions.”
Israel has balked at freeing up Gaza’s borders under any de-escalation deal unless Hamas’s disarmament is also guaranteed.
Egypt said it was revising an unconditional truce proposal that Israel had originally accepted but Hamas rejected, and that the new offer would be presented to a Palestinian delegation expected in Cairo later on Tuesday. An Israeli official said Israel might send its own envoy to Cairo in the evening too.
“We are hearing that Israel has approved a ceasefire but Hamas has not,” an Egyptian official told Reuters, an account that the Netanyahu government neither confirmed nor denied.
The U.S.-backed administration of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, saying it was also speaking for Hamas and Islamic Jihad in the Gaza Strip, voiced support on Tuesday for a 24-72 hour ceasefire.
Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri disputed that statement but confirmed there were “intensive, ongoing contacts” on a truce.
Outside pressure has been building on Netanyahu to rein in his forces, but polls show few Israelis want the operation to end now.
A Tel Aviv University poll published on Tuesday found 95 percent of Israel’s Jewish majority felt the offensive was justified. Only 4 percent believed too much force had been used.