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Israel Escalates Campaign Against Hamas07/29 06:13

   Israel escalated its military campaign against Hamas on Tuesday, striking 
symbols of the group's control in Gaza and firing tank shells that shut down 
the strip's only power plant in the heaviest bombardment in the fighting so far.

   GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) -- Israel escalated its military campaign against 
Hamas on Tuesday, striking symbols of the group's control in Gaza and 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 on Monday 
warned of a "prolonged" campaign against Hamas. It was not clear if this meant 
Israel has decided to go beyond the initial objectives of decimating Hamas' 
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 par 
with an invasion five years ago, which ended with a unilateral Israeli 
withdrawal after hitting Hamas hard.

   In Tuesday's strikes, Israeli warplanes carried out dozens of attacks, 
leveling 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.

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

   No one was hurt in Haniyeh's home. Since the start of the war, Israel has 
targeted several homes of Hamas leaders but none was killed presumably as they 
appear to have gone into hiding.

   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. Dardasawi said 15 workers were trapped 
inside by the fire and that the damage would take months to repair. There was 
no immediate word on casualties.

   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, did not comment on the 
explosion at the plant, but told The Associated Press that Israel's latest 
strikes signal "a gradual increase in the pressure" on Hamas.

   "Israel is "determined to strike this organization and relieve us of this 
threat," Lerner said.

   International calls for an unconditional cease-fire have been mounting in 
recent days, as the extent of the destruction in Gaza became more apparent.

   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 U.N. 
has estimated that 75 percent of those killed are civilians.

   At least 26 Palestinians were killed early Tuesday in the airstrikes and 
tank shelling on four homes, according to the Red Crescent.

   The house of the mayor of the Bureij in central Gaza was hit in an 
airstrike, and five bodies were pulled from the rubble, the Red Crescent said. 
Those killed included the mayor, 50-year-old Anas Abu Shamaleh, his 70-year-old 
father and three relatives.

   In the southern town of Rafah, seven members of one family were killed in an 
airstrike and seven members of a second family were killed when tank shells hit 
their home, according to the Rafah office of the Palestinian Center for Human 
Rights, which keeps a casualty count.

   In central Gaza, seven people, including five members of one family, where 
killed by tank shelling on a home, the Red Crescent said.

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

   Tens of thousands of Gazans have been displaced by fighting in the border 
areas, which have come under heavy tank fire. Late Monday, Israel urged 
residents of three large neighborhoods in northeastern Gaza to leave their 
homes and immediate head to Gaza City.

   Despite appeals for a cease-fire, both sides have been holding out for 
bigger gains.

   Hamas has said it will not stop fighting until it wins international 
guarantees that a crippling border blockade of Gaza will be lifted. Israel and 
Egypt had imposed the closure after Hamas seized Gaza in 2007, defeating forces 
loyal to their political rival, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Over the 
past year, Egypt has further tightened restrictions, shutting down hundreds of 
smuggling tunnels under the Egypt-Gaza border that had provide crucial tax 
income to Hamas. The closure of the tunnels drove Hamas into a severe financial 
crisis.

   Israel has said it is defending its citizens against attack from Gaza by 
hitting Hamas rocket launchers, weapons storage sites and military tunnels 
under the Gaza-Israel border.

   Israel said its troops will not leave Gaza until they have demolished the 
tunnels which have been used by Hamas to sneak into Israel to try to carry out 
attacks. On Monday, Gaza militants infiltrated through one of the tunnels and 
killed five soldiers in a firefight. One of the assailants was also killed. 
Separately, four Israeli soldiers were killed by mortar shells from Gaza that 
hit southern Israel.

   Israel media have said the army has destroyed close to 20 of 31 identified 
tunnels, but that 10 more tunnels are believed to be in areas of Gaza still 
outside Israeli control.

   After the deaths of the soldiers, Netanyahu signaled that Israel is 
intensifying its air- and ground campaign. "We will continue to act 
aggressively and responsibly until the mission is completed to protect our 
citizens, soldiers and children."

   Overnight, Israel carried out about 70 airstrikes, the military said.

   Haniyeh's house, located in a narrow alley of the Shati refugee camp, was 
reduced to rubble. Residents placed a large framed portrait of Haniyeh atop the 
rubble, and draped Hamas flags and Palestinian national banners over the debris.

   Neighbor Imhane Abu Ghaliyeh, 60, who lives 50 meters (yards) from Haniyeh's 
home, said area residents fled after apparent warning missiles were fired.


(KA)


 
 
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