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Gaza fighting rages as Palestinians offer truce

Israel intensified its Gaza bombardment leaving scores dead Tuesday (July 29), the 22nd day of a devastating conflict, as Palestinian leaders said an offer of a day-long truce was on the table.

GAZA CITY: Israel intensified its Gaza bombardment leaving scores dead Tuesday (July 29), the 22nd day of a devastating conflict, as Palestinian leaders said an offer of a day-long truce was on the table.

Dozens of Palestinians, including women and children, were killed in the Palestinian enclave as diplomatic efforts by the international community and calls for an end to the bloodshed fell on deaf ears.

But Yasser Abed Rabbo, secretary general of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, said after consultations with Hamas and Islamic Jihad, the two main militant groups in Gaza, that there was "willingness for a ceasefire and humanitarian truce for 24 hours". A joint delegation headed by Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas would travel to Cairo to take the next step, he added, although there was no immediate confirmation of the plan from Hamas.

A series of ceasefires in recent days have failed to take hold, as both sides appeared more determined than ever to keep up the fighting. The Israeli offensive, which began on July 8 to end Hamas rocket attacks on the Jewish state, has killed more than 1,100 Palestinians, mostly civilians according to the United Nations, while 56 lives have been lost on the Israeli side, all but three of them soldiers.

DELUGE OF BOMBS

On Monday night, a deluge of bombs rained down on Gaza, after an uneasy truce to mark the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and the Eid al-Fitr holiday.

Shells fired from tanks struck Gaza's biggest power plant, causing damage and a fire, bringing it grinding to a halt, a senior official with the electricity authority said. And an air strike targeted the home of top Hamas leader Ismail Haniya in Gaza City's Shati refugee camp, officials said.

By the time dawn broke on the second day of Eid, at least 24 people had been killed, among them nine women and four children, medics said. "Suddenly, missiles were falling like rain," said Gaza resident Mohamed al-Dalo. "We all left our homes, some running in one direction, some in another, nobody knew which way to go."

In the afternoon, a new round of Israeli tank shelling on houses at Jabaliya, in northern Gaza, killed at least 13 people, medics said. And later Israeli troops killed five Palestinian militants in a Gaza gun battle, the army said. It said the clash broke out as militants emerged from a tunnel and opened fire at soldiers.

10 MORE SOLDIERS KILLED

Israel announced another five soldiers were killed in a militant ambush late Monday after they sneaked into southern Israel by a tunnel. Also on Monday, mortar killed four soldiers near a southern kibbutz, the army said, while another soldier had been killed in action in southern Gaza.

The World Health Organisation now estimates that more than 215,000 people, or one Gazan in every eight, have fled their homes in the overcrowded territory. Many have headed for already-cramped UN schools in the north, where children ran barefoot around a dirty school yard alongside stinking piles of rubbish.

The surge in violence drew increasingly urgent international demands for an end to hostilities. "In the name of humanity, the violence must stop," UN chief Ban Ki-moon on Monday.

But the calls went unheeded, with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warning it would be "a lengthy campaign" that would go on until troops destroyed cross-border tunnels used for staging attacks on Israel. "Israeli citizens cannot live with the threat from rockets and from death tunnels -- death from above and from below," he said.

Tensions had risen sharply after a shell on Monday landed inside the Shifa hospital compound in Gaza City, followed by a blast at a children's playground in the city's Shati refugee camp, that killed 10, eight of them children. "We have not fired on the hospital or on Shati refugee camp," Major Arye Shalicar told AFP, saying the army had footage showing militants firing at Israel but the missiles falling short inside Gaza.

With the Palestinian death toll soaring, Iran's supreme leader accused Israel of committing "genocide" in Gaza and called for the Muslim to arm Palestinian militants.

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