JERUSALEM: Israel and Hamas, the group that rules Gaza, have agreed in principle to a ceasefire in Gaza, Israel's Channel Two television said on Tuesday, citing an unnamed senior Israeli official.
The report, which was not immediately confirmed by the Israeli government or Hamas, said the sides had not yet agreed on how long the truce would last. It said Egypt had brokered the reported deal.
PLO offers truce as at least 100 killed in Gaza
A senior PLO official proposed a 24-hour humanitarian cease-fire Tuesday in the Gaza war, saying he spoke in the name of Hamas, but was contradicted a short while later by a spokesman of the group.
In Gaza, a health official said at least 100 Palestinians were killed in Israeli airstrikes and tank shelling Tuesday, as Israel escalated its military campaign.
The official, Ashraf al-Kidra, said the day's death toll was expected to rise.
There have been several instances in which the daily Gaza death toll in more than three weeks of Israel-Hamas fighting has surpassed 100. Israel has lost 53 soldiers, along with two civilians and a Thai national.
Tuesday's cease-fire offer was made by the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), of which Hamas is not a member.
The largest group in the PLO is the Fatah movement of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Hamas' main political rival.
However, the PLO's secretary-general, Yasser Abed Rabbo, said the offer came after consultations with Hamas and Islamic Jihad, a smaller militant group in Gaza.
Palestinian officials said Abbas has been in touch in recent days with Khaled Mashaal, the top Hamas leader in exile.
“The Palestinian leadership, following consultations with the leadership in Hamas and Islamic Jihad, announces in the name of all of these our readiness for an immediate humanitarian cease-fire for 24 hours,” Abed Rabbo said in the West Bank.
A Hamas spokesman in Gaza, Sami Abu Zuhri, said that “the remarks of Mr. Abed Rabbo are not true and have nothing to do with the positions of the factions at the moment.
“It was not clear if Abu Zuhri reflected the views of the Hamas leadership in exile. In Israel, government spokesman Mark Regev declined comment.
Tuesday's strikes came after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday warned of a “prolonged” campaign against Hamas.
It was not clear if this meant Israel has decided to go beyond the initial objectives of decimating Hamas' ability to fire rockets and demolishing the group's military tunnels under the Gaza-Israel border.
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 it hit Hamas hard.
Gaza's power plant also was forced to shut down Tuesday after two tank shells hit one of three fuel tanks, said Jamal Dardasawi, a spokesman for Gaza's electricity distribution company. He said the damage would take months to repair.
Even before the shutdown, Gaza residents only had electricity for about three hours a day because fighting had damaged power lines.
Israeli aircraft fired a missile at the house of Hamas Gaza leader Ismail Haniyeh and flattened it before dawn, causing damage but no casualties, Gaza's interior ministry said.
As night fell, army flares illuminated the sky and the sound of intense shelling was heard. The military warned thousands of Palestinians to flee their homes around Gaza City — usually the prelude to major army strikes.
“We need to be prepared for a lengthy campaign. We will continue to act with force and discretion until our mission is accomplished,” Netanyahu said.
It was a bloody start to the three-day Muslim holiday of Eidul-Fitr, with international demands for an end to the fighting falling on increasingly deaf ears.
Calm before the storm
Monday had started with a deceptive air of calm in and around Gaza following a quiet second night in which both sides appeared to be observing an undeclared ceasefire.
Despite the lull, there was little mood for celebration in Gaza City as the three-day Eid holiday got under way, with families quickly leaving the mosque after prayers to head straight home or to pay their respects to the dead.
“This is the Eid of the martyrs,” said Ahed Shamali mourning the death of his 16-year-old son.
But tensions rose sharply after medics said a shell had struck a building inside the Shifa hospital compound in Gaza City, which was quickly followed by reports of a blast hitting a children's playground in a beachside refugee camp, which left 10 dead, eight of them children.
The Israeli army categorically denied it had fired at either the hospital or the camp.
Residents in the Shati camp said an F-16 firing several missiles at a motorised rickshaw, with medics confirming 10 dead with another 46 injured, including many children.
Near the site of the blast, women wailed and men screamed in anguish in scenes of utter confusion and distress, an AFP correspondent said.
But the army denied any involvement, blaming errant rocket fire by Palestinian militants.
“We have not fired on the hospital or on Shati refugee camp,” Major Arye Shalicar told AFP, saying the only drones used near Shifa were not equipped with missiles.
As the violence soared, top diplomats from Britain, France, Germany, Italy and the United States pledged to step up the pressure to force the sides to accept a truce, with a statement from the French presidency saying they had “agreed to redouble their efforts to obtain a ceasefire.
“Pressure must increase to get there,” it said.
US Secretary of State John Kerry said any lasting truce must ensure the disarmament of Hamas and other militant groups, with parties working together on the basis of an Egyptian ceasefire initiative.
And Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas was expected to visit Cairo with representatives of Hamas and Islamic Jihad for fresh talks with the Egyptians on ending the violence in Gaza, a senior source in Ramallah told AFP.