A Palestinian delegation headed on Tuesday to Cairo to discuss an Egyptian ceasefire plan to end the raging war between Palestinian factions and Israel, sources told Al Arabiya Channel, as Israel dug in for a long war, knocking out a power plant in Gaza and flattening the home of Hamas’ political leader.
The sources said an agreement had been reached for a meeting in Cairo to include the leaderships of Hamas, the Islamic Jihad and Fatah as part of a new push to revive Egypt’s initiative to broker a cease-fire between Gaza-based Palestinian militants and Israel.
One source said that the participants would discuss an Egyptian ceasefire plan used to broker a truce between the warring sides in 2012.
Health officials told Reuters at least 85 Palestinians died in some of heaviest bombardments from air, sea and land since Israel's offensive began on July 8 in response to rocket salvoes fired by Gaza's dominant Hamas Islamists and their guerrilla allies.
Local hospital officials put the total number of Palestinian dead in the conflict at 1,200, most of them civilians. On the Israeli side, 53 soldiers and three civilians have been killed.
The Israeli assault intensified following the deaths of 10 Israeli soldiers in cross-border attacks on Monday, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warning of a long conflict ahead.
Thick black smoke rose from blazing fuel tanks at the power station that supplies up to two-thirds of Gaza's energy needs, Reuters said. The local energy authority said initial damage assessments suggested the plant could be out of action for a year.
Electricity was cut to the city of Gaza and many other parts of the Hamas-dominated territory after what officials said was Israeli tank shelling of the tanks containing some 3 million cubic liters of diesel fuel.
Local hospital officials said Israeli tank shells and air strikes killed 10 people in and around Jabalya refugee camp in the northern Gaza Strip, raising the number of Palestinian dead, most of them civilians, to 1,139 in the current conflict.
Before dawn, Israeli aircraft fired a missile at the house of Hamas Gaza leader Ismail Haniyeh, a former Palestinian prime minister, destroying the structure but causing no casualties, Gaza's Interior Ministry said.
Hamas, whose internal political leadership is in hiding, said its broadcast outlets Al-Aqsa TV and Al-Aqsa Radio were also targeted. The television station continued to broadcast but the radio station went silent.
The escalation in violence came as Israel appeared to leave the door open for reaching a truce.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Tuesday Netanyahu had asked for fresh U.S. help in trying to broker a ceasefire in Gaza.
"Last night we talked, and the prime minister talked to me about an idea and a possibility of a ceasefire. He raised it with me, as he has consistently," Kerry said.
Netanyahu had said he "would embrace a ceasefire that permits Israel to protect itself against the tunnels and obviously not be disadvantaged for the great sacrifice they have made thus far."
Kerry said if there was an agreement on serious negotiations about the wider issues both Israel and Hamas want to address, it would happen in Cairo, "it would be entirely without pre-conditions and it would not prejudice Israel's ability to defend itself."
"It is more appropriate to try to resolve the underlying issues at a negotiating table, than to continue a tit-for-tat of violence ... which will be much more difficult to recover from," Kerry said.
Hamas and Israel have in the past set conditions for a ceasefire that appear irreconcilable. Israel wants Gaza's armed groups stripped of weapons. Hamas and its allies want an Israeli-Egyptian blockade lifted.
(With Reuters and AFP)