WATCH: The Israeli army unleashed the worst bombardment on the Gaza Strip so far. But, there will be more terrifying nights ahead for Gazans. There was some talk of a ceasefire on Tuesday, but no one expects peace for a long time. Stuart Greer reports.
GAZA, Gaza Strip – Israel on Tuesday unleashed its heaviest bombardment in a 3-week-old war against Hamas, striking symbols of the militant group’s control in Gaza and firing tank shells that Palestinian officials said shut down the strip’s only power plant.
The shutdown of the power plant has led to further serious disruptions of the flow of electricity and water to the 1.7 million people packed into the narrow Palestinian territory; the heavy strikes were a new blow to international efforts to reach a sustainable truce in the fighting, now in its fourth week.
At least 1,210 Palestinians have been killed, including 109 on Tuesday, and 7,000 wounded since the start of fighting July 8, said Palestinian health official Ashraf al-Kidra. He said 16 other people died of wounds sustained on previous days.
The dead included multiple members of at least five families who were pulled from the rubble Tuesday after airstrikes and tank shelling struck their homes, including the mayor of a refugee camp and his 70-year-old father, according to Palestinian health officials and the Palestinian Red Crescent.
Israel has reported 53 soldiers and three civilians killed.
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On Tuesday evening, residents of the sprawling Jebaliya refugee camp in northern Gaza reported intense tank shelling. Ten members of an extended family were killed and 50 other people wounded in the area, Palestinian health officials said. Two brothers driving in a car with markings of a UN aid agency were killed by shrapnel, an area resident said.
"It was like an earthquake," Moussa al-Mabhouh, a volunteer for Gaza’s Civil Defence, said of the scene.
“Roofs collapsed, walls cracked and wounded people everywhere.”
In the West Bank, Yasser Abed Rabbo, the secretary general of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), called for a 24-hour cease-fire and said the offer was made after consultations with Hamas and the smaller Islamic Jihad group. However, Izzat Rishq, a senior Hamas official in exile, said his group wanted to hear from Israel first.
The largest group in the PLO is the Fatah movement of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Hamas’ main political rival. Hamas is not a member.
Despite appeals for a cease-fire, both sides have been holding out for bigger gains.
The leader of Hamas’ military wing, Mohammed Deif, said in an audiotape broadcast late Tuesday on Al-Aqsa TV that his group won’t cease fire until its demands are met. Hamas has demanded that Israel and Egypt lift a border blockade they imposed on Gaza after Hamas seized the territory in 2007.
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.
Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev declined comment, but Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday warned of a “prolonged” campaign against Hamas. It wasn’t clear if Netanyahu has decided to expand the Gaza war into an all-out effort to topple Hamas, or planned to limit Israel’s operation to the previously stated goal of ending Hamas rocket fire and destroying Hamas’s sophisticated network of cross-border tunnels.
WATCH: Raw video of a massive explosion as the shelling in Gaza continues.
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.
On Tuesday, 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.
Haniyeh’s house, in a narrow alley of the Shati refugee camp, was reduced to rubble but no one was hurt. Haniyeh said in a statement Tuesday that “destroying stones will not break our determination.”
The scene at the Gaza power plant after two tank shells hit one of three fuel tanks was daunting. Fathi Sheik Khalil of the Gaza Energy Authority said it would take at least one year to repair: “Everything was burned.”
This means most of Gaza will now be without power, though even before the shutdown Gaza residents only had electricity for about three hours a day because fighting had damaged power lines. The lack of electricity will also affect water supplies, since power is needed to operate water pumps.
Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, an Israeli military spokesman, didn’t 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.
International calls for an unconditional cease-fire have been mounting in recent days, as the extent of the destruction in Gaza became more apparent.
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.
Tens of thousands of Gazans have been displaced by fighting in the border areas, which have come under heavy tank fire.
The military said Palestinian militants fired at least 64 rockets Tuesday at Israeli cities.
Meanwhile, the UN refugee agency for Palestinians said it found a cache of rockets hidden inside of one of its schools. It said the school was closed for the summer and was not being used as a shelter.
“We condemn the group or groups who endangered civilians by placing these munitions in our school,” agency spokesman Chris Gunness said. "This is yet another flagrant violation of the neutrality of our premises."
It marked the third time since the Gaza war began that the UN found weapons hidden in one of its schools.
WATCH: Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) official offers 24-hour truce, claims he speaks for Hamas though militants say they’re waiting for Israel’s response.
Enav reported from Jerusalem. Associated Press writers Ibrahim Barzak in Gaza City and Ian Deitch in Jerusalem contributed to this report.
© 2014 The Canadian Press