Israeli attack shuts down Gaza power plant as death toll rises

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At least 100 Palestinians were been killed in fighting in Gaza yesterday, according to a health official, as Israel escalated its military offensive in the coastal strip.

Israel struck the symbols of Hamas control in Gaza, firing tank shells that shut down the strip’s only power plant in the heaviest bombardment in the fighting so far.

Flares turned the sky over Gaza City orange overnight and by daybreak, as the conflict entered its fourth week, heavy clouds of dust hovered over the territory.

A thick column of black smoke rose from a burning fuel tank at the power plant.

The pounding came after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned of a “prolonged” campaign against Hamas.

It was not clear if this meant Israel has decided to go beyond the initial objectives of hitting Hamas’s ability to fire rockets and demolishing the group’s military tunnels under the Gaza-Israel border. Already, the intensity and the scope of the current Gaza operation is on a par with an invasion five years ago, which ended with a unilateral Israeli withdrawal after hitting Hamas hard.

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

Mr Haniyeh, whose house was turned into a mountain of rubble by a pre-dawn airstrike, said in a statement that “destroying stones will not break our determination”.

No one was hurt in Mr Haniyeh’s home. Since the start of the war, Israel has targeted several homes of Hamas leaders but none has been killed.

Gaza’s power plant was forced to shut down after two tank shells hit one of three fuel tanks, said Jamal Dardasawi, a spokesman for Gaza’s electricity distribution company.

The shelling sparked a large fire and a huge column of smoke was seen rising from the site. Mr Dardasawi said 15 workers were trapped inside by the fire and that the damage would take months to repair.

Even before the shutdown, Gaza residents only had electricity for about three hours a day because fighting had damaged power lines.

Lt Col Peter Lerner, an Israeli military spokesman, said Israel’s latest strikes signal “a gradual increase in the pressure” on Hamas. Israel was “determined to strike this organisation and relieve us of this threat”, he said.

More than 1,110 Palestinians have been killed and more than 6,500 wounded since July 8, according to Ashraf al-Kidra, a Gaza health official. The UN has estimated that 75 per cent of those killed are civilians.

Israel has lost 53 soldiers, along with two civilians and a Thai worker.

A 15-year-old American boy is being held by Israel for allegedly playing a leading role in violent East Jerusalem protests.

US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said considering his age, America is calling for a speedy resolution to the case of Mohamed Abu Nie.

Ms Psaki said he had been held since being arrested on July 3 on various charges alleging that he threw rocks, attacked police, was carrying a knife and led protests linked to the unrest.

The US is also concerned about claims that he might have been beaten while in custody.