Binyamin Netanyahu warns of a drawn-out war

Eight children killed in a playground in Gaza City as both sides blame the other

Israeli tank fire hit the fuel depot of Gaza's only power plant, cutting electricity to Gaza City and many other parts of the Palestinian enclave. Video: Reuters


Israel knocked out Gaza’s only power plant, flattened the home of its Islamist Hamas political leader and pounded dozens of other high-profile targets in the enclave today, with no end in sight to more than three weeks of conflict.

Health officials said at least 30 Palestinians were killed in some of heaviest bombardments from air, sea and land since the Israeli offensive began in response to Hamas rocket fire. The Israeli assault intensified following the deaths of 10 Israeli soldiers in cross-border attacks yesterday, 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. 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 litres of diesel fuel.

“The power plant is finished,” said its director, Mohammed al-Sharif. 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.

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 military said the stations were used to “transit orders and messages to Hamas operatives and to instruct Gaza residents to ignore IDF (Israel Defence Forces) warnings regarding upcoming military activity in specific areas.”

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

Heavy shelling could be heard across Gaza last night after Israel stepped up its bombardment with warnings to thousands of people to leave their homes.

As army flares lit up the sky over northern and eastern Gaza, Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu signalled a renewed ground operation and said Israel must prepare for a drawn-out war.

Hopes of a swift ceasefire had been receding from late afternoon, when a relative lull to coincide with the Muslim feast of Eid-al-Fitr gave way to fresh rocket fire towards Gaza and a series of Israeli ripostes.

Eight children were killed in a playground in Gaza City in an incident both sides blamed on the other, while five Israeli soldiers were killed in two separate attacks, including a mortar attack on the border.

Air strike

Residents near the playground at the Al Shati camp in Gaza City blamed the explosion on an air strike, but Israel said a misfiring militant rocket caused the carnage.

The incident set off chaotic scenes at Shifa hospital, where dozens of families scoured the wards for loved ones and medics struggled to cope with the influx. “I was in the house when I heard this huge sound,” said Mustafa Abu Shafqa (25), who was nearby when the projectile hit.

“I went out on to the street and saw butchery. Around 10 children were killed – their bodies were in pieces.” He said he carried two of the injured children away; one survived, the other was dead by the time they got to the hospital.

At roughly the same time, another blast shook the grounds of Shifa hospital, without causing any casualties. Israel again blamed an errant militant missile.

In his address, Mr Netanyhau said Israel must be prepared for a “protracted campaign”, insisting the country’s troops would not leave Gaza until they had destroyed Hamas’s tunnel network. “We will continue to act with force and discretion until our mission is accomplished,” he said.

Some 1,100 Palestinians, most of them civilians, have died in the conflagration. Israel has lost 53 soldiers and another three civilians have been killed by Palestinian shelling.

Foreign pressure has been building on Mr Netanyahu, with both US president Barack Obama and the UN Security Council urging an immediate ceasefire that would allow relief to reach Gaza’s 1.8 million people, followed by negotiations on a more durable cessation of hostilities.

The main UN agency in Gaza, UNRWA, said more than 182,000 displaced Palestinians had taken shelter in its schools and buildings, following calls by Israel for civilians to evacuate whole neighbourhoods ahead of military operations. Thousands more have been taken in by friends or family.

Additional reporting from Reuters