The only power plant supplying electricity to the Gaza Strip was knocked out of commission by Israeli shelling, deputy director of the energy authority in the Palestinian territory said Tuesday.
“Gaza's sole power plant has stopped working due to Israeli shelling last night, which damaged the steam generator and later hit the fuel tanks which set them on fire,” Fathi al-Sheikh Khalil told AFP.
"The power plant is finished," Mohammed al-Sharif, the plant’s director told Reuters. An Israeli military spokeswoman had no immediate comment and said she was checking the report.
Gaza City municipality said damage to the station could halt many of the area's water pumps, and it urged residents to ration water consumption.
The Council for Arab-British Understanding (CAABU) has denounced the "deliberate destruction of Gaza’s sole power plant" as "possible war crime."
"The international community must hold Israel fully accountable for the deliberate and pre-meditated targeting of Gaza’s sole power plant. It is illegal under customary international law to target civilian infrastructure and could amount to a war crime," CAABU said in a statement.
The Council's director, Chris Doyle, said: “The Palestinian civilian population of Gaza have been collectively punished.”
An AFP reporter saw huge fires raging near the plant Tuesday morning, noting that fire department vehicles were still unable to reach the area.
The damage of the power plant exacerbated the heavy damage to civilian infrastructure in Gaza already inflicted during the 22 days of the Israeli offensive aimed at stamping out militant rocket fire and destroying attack tunnels.
Besides the power plant, Gaza also purchases electricity from Israel, but many of the supply lines have been badly damaged by the recent fighting, Sheikh Khalil said.
"Five out of 10 of the Israeli electricity lines into the Gaza Strip were also damaged because of Israeli shelling, and maintenance still cannot reach the areas and fix them," he explained.
Operation Protective Edge entered its fourth week on Tuesday. It is Israel's most deadly offensive since 2009, and its fourth since withdrawing from Gaza in 2005.
More than 1,100 Palestinians have been killed, mostly civilians, including 230 children.
Three civilians have been killed on Israeli soil, as well as 53 soldiers, Israel's heaviest military loss since the 2006 conflict with Lebanon's Hezbollah.
About one-tenth of Gaza's population of 1.8 million people have now sought refuge at UN-run sites.
Outside pressure has been building on Netanyahu to rein in his forces. Both U.S. President Barack Obama and the U.N. Security Council have called for an immediate ceasefire to allow relief to reach Gaza's 1.8 million Palestinians, followed by negotiations on a more durable end to hostilities.
Both Hamas and Islamic Jihad said on Tuesday they were ready for a new humanitarian ceasefire of 24 hours.