Hamas: No cease-fire until Israeli blockade on Gaza is lifted

Smoke and fire from the explosion of an Israeli air strike rise over Gaza City

Smoke and fire from the explosion of an Israeli air strike rise over Gaza City

At least 100 Palestinians killed overnight in Israeli bombardment that shut down territory’s only power plant

July 29, 2014: ET Updated 4:00PM ET

Hamas has denied agreeing to a 24-hour cease-fire announced Tuesday by the Palestinian Liberation Organization, with the group’s armed wing Al Qassam saying there would be no peace until Israel lifted its blockade on the occupied Gaza Strip.

A senior PLO official had said earlier Tuesday that all Palestinian factions have offered a 24-hour cease-fire in Gaza.

Yasser Abed Rabbo, a PLO executive committee member, said that all Palestinian factions had agreed on the offer and that a unified delegation had been sent to Cairo to talk about the next steps.

But Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri denied that the group agreed to the truce, with the Palestinian news agency Maan quoting him as saying that “Yasser Abed Rabbu’s statement that Hamas agreed to a cease-fire for 24 hours is not true and has nothing to do with the resistance’s stand.”

“We will consider a cease-fire when Israel commits to it with international guarantees,” Abu Zuhri added. Hamas has said its conditions for a truce include Israel’s ending its siege of Gaza and the release of long-serving political prisoners that was agreed to in a 2012 cease-fire but not carried out completely.

Though Israel pulled out its illegal settlements, checkpoints and military from inside Gaza in 2005, it remained in control of the territory’s land borders, air space, and sea — effectively strangling the coastal enclave with a devastating effect on Gaza’s economy and infrastructure.

Israel has said it will not comment until Hamas officially presents the offer. Haaretz, an Israeli news website, reported senior Israeli officials as saying no cease-fire had been agreed upon, though negotiations were taking place in Cairo.

Word of the possible cease-fire came after Israel’s military continued to pound the Gaza Strip overnight, killing at least 100 people in assaults launched from air, land and sea after midnight, according to Palestinian officials.

Five families were almost entirely wiped out in Khan Younis and Rafah, according to reports by Haaretz. For many Gaza residents, it was the heaviest night of bombing since the military offensive against the territory began three weeks ago.

Gaza’s only power plant was shut down overnight because of a large fire caused by Israeli shelling, Palestinian officials said.

Fathi al-Sheikh Khalil, deputy head of the power authority in Gaza, said that a shell struck a fuel container and ignited a fire and that another damaged a steam engine in the plant, Maan reported. Gaza residents already faced severe power shortages due to Israel’s years-long blockade of the territory, which has resulted in fuel and spare parts shortages.

Running water and sewage treatment will also be affected by the downed plant, as both services need power to function. Many homes will be without water in addition to electricity, and untreated sewage could run into the Mediterranean Sea.

Since the military offensive began on July 8, more than 1,216 Palestinians — most of them civilians — have died, and more than 6,200 others have been wounded in the Israeli offensive. Israeli fatalities have risen to 55, including two civilians. A Thai foreign worker has also been killed in the violence.

Israeli aircraft fired a rocket at the house of Ismail Haniyeh, Gaza’s senior Hamas leader, before dawn on Tuesday in the Shati refugee camp. No casualties were reported, according to Gaza’s Interior Ministry.

“My house is not dearer than any of the houses of our people,” Haniyeh was quoted as saying on a Hamas website. “The destruction of stones will not break our will, and we will continue our resistance until we gain freedom.”

An Israeli military spokeswoman had no information on the report but was checking for details. Hamas broadcast outlets Al-Aqsa TV and Al-Aqsa Radio were also targeted, and the radio station went silent. The television station continued to broadcast.

Children killed

The overnight strikes came after a day of heavy Hamas-Israeli fighting. The Hamas-run Health Ministry said 10 people, including nine children under the age of 12, were killed and 46 wounded in a blast at a park in the Shati refugee camp on the outskirts of Gaza City. Each side blamed the tragedy on the other.

Meanwhile, the Israeli military said five soldiers died in a gun battle with fighters who crossed into Israel via a tunnel near the community of Nahal Oz, close to the border with the Gaza Strip. Hamas said its forces infiltrated Israel to retaliate for the killing of children in a beach camp.

At least 53 Israeli soldiers have been killed since Israel launched its offensive on Gaza.

In a televised address on Monday night, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said any solution to the crisis would require the demilitarization of the Palestinian territory, controlled by Hamas and its allies.

“We will not finish the mission, we will not finish the operation without neutralizing the tunnels, which have the sole purpose of destroying our citizens, killing our children,” he said, adding that it was a “painful day.”

“We need to be prepared for a protracted campaign. We will continue to act with force and discretion until our mission is accomplished,” Netanyahu said.

As he spoke, the Israeli military sent messages to thousands of Palestinians in Shujaiya, Zeitun, Jebaliya, Beit Lahiya and Beit Hanun, urging them to flee their homes and seek shelter in central Gaza City.

The U.N. said on Monday that more than 167,000 displaced Palestinians had taken shelter in its schools and buildings, heeding the Israeli evacuation warnings.

Many Jebaliya residents said they did not dare attempt an escape. Sufian Abed Rabbo said his extended family of 17 took refuge under the stairway in their home.

“God help us. We have nothing to do but pray,” the 27-year-old told The Associated Press by phone. “I don’t know who left and who stayed, but in our street, we are all very scared to move.”

Israeli tanks shelled border areas of Gaza, killing five people, including three children and a 70-year-old woman, and wounding 50 in Jebaliya, the Red Crescent said.

A number of rockets from Gaza were launched toward southern and central Israel, including the Tel Aviv area. At least one rocket was intercepted by the Iron Dome system. No casualties or damage were reported.

Pressure builds

An opinion poll broadcast by Israel’s Channel 10 television showed overwhelming public support for continuing the Gaza offensive until Hamas is “disarmed.” However, foreign pressure has been building on Netanyahu to show restraint.

Both President Barack Obama and the U.N. Security Council have called for an immediate cease-fire to allow relief to reach Gaza’s 1.8 million Palestinians, followed by negotiations on a more durable cessation of hostilities.

Israel has said it wants guarantees that Hamas will be stripped of its tunnels and missile stocks. In his television address on Monday night, Netanyahu said any solution to the crisis would need to see Palestinian fighters stripped of their weapons.

“The process of preventing the armament of the terror organization and demilitarization of the Gaza Strip must be part of any solution. And the international community must demand this forcefully,” he said.

Hamas, for its part, has said it wants international guarantees that Israel will abide by the terms of any cease-fire agreed upon, citing Israel’s failure to follow the terms of the last truce in 2012.

Sami Abu Zuhri, Hamas’ spokesman, said, “[Netanyahu’s] threats do not frighten either Hamas or the Palestinian people, and the [Israeli] occupation will pay the price for its massacres against children and civilians.”

Israel launched its offensive on July 8 after escalating a crackdown on Hamas, which began after the group’s unity deal with Fatah during the last round of failed peace talks.

The crackdown was ramped up followed the June killing of three Israeli teenagers who were studying in illegal West Bank settlements. Israel blamed the crime on Hamas, which the group denied. The perpetrators were later found to be unaffiliated with Hamas leadership, instead acting as part of a lone cell, Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld told a BBC journalist last week.

On Tuesday, Israeli-Arab Knesset member Haneen Zoabi was barred from parliamentary sessions for six months because of his comments on the murder of three Israeli teens, Haaretz reported.

Zoabi said in an interview on Radio Tel Aviv that the perpetrators of the crime were not terrorists but “people who don’t see any way to change their reality, and they are forced to use these means until Israel will wake up a little, until Israeli citizens and society will wake up and feel the suffering of the other.”

Al Jazeera and wire services

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