GAZA - Tags: POLITICS CIVIL UNREST
Palestinians carry their belongings as flee their house from what witnesses said were Israeli air strikes, in Gaza City July 29, 2014. Israel's military pounded targets in the Gaza Strip on Tuesday after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said his country needed to be prepared for a long conflict in the Palestinian enclave, squashing any hopes of a swift end to 22 days of fighting. Israel launched its Gaza offensive on July 8, saying its aim was to halt rocket attacks by Hamas and its allies. It later ordered a land invasion to find and destroy the warren of Hamas tunnels that crisscrosses the border area. More than 1,100 Gazans, most of them civilians, have been killed in the conflict. On the Israeli side, 53 soldiers have been killed in the fighting, as well as three civilians. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem (GAZA - Tags: POLITICS CIVIL UNREST) - RTR40GT3 Mohammed Salem/Reuters
Israeli aircraft, tanks and navy gunboats targeted symbols of Hamas control in Gaza City early Tuesday in the heaviest night of bombardment in three weeks of Israel-Hamas fighting after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned of a "prolonged" campaign in Gaza.
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The overnight strikes hit the home of the top Hamas leader in Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh, as well as government offices and the headquarters of the Hamas satellite TV station.
Israeli forces fired hundreds of flares that turned the night sky bright orange. By daybreak Tuesday, a cloud of thick dust from the explosions hung over Gaza City.
A Palestinian health official put the overall Gaza death toll at 1,110. Israel has lost 53 soldiers, including four killed Monday in a mortar attack in southern Israel, along with two civilians and a Thai national.
Netanyahu warns of 'prolonged' war
Signalling an escalation of Israel's Gaza operation, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Israelis Monday to be ready for a "prolonged" war, and the military warned Palestinians in three large neighbourhoods to leave their homes and head immediately for Gaza City.
At dawn Tuesday, plumes of smoke rose above the Al Shorouq media building in central Gaza City which houses the offices of the Hamas-run Al Aqsa television and radio. Hours earlier, at least two major explosions hit the media building, one of the tallest in Gaza, starting a fire on the roof and and shaking surrounding buildings.
AP video showed a massive flash as the first strike hit the top of the building, sending debris raining down. The building also houses offices of a number of Arab satellite television news channels.
The Abu Khadra government complex in Gaza City was also badly damaged by the Israeli attacks.
Hamas leaders remained defiant in the aftermath of the Israeli onslaught.
"My house is not more valuable than the houses of other people, destroying stones will not break our determination," Haniyeh said in a statement.
'We are all very scared to move'
The overnight strikes came after a day of heavy Hamas-Israeli fighting in which nine children were killed by a strike on a Gaza park where they were playing, according to Palestinian health officials — a tragedy that each side blamed on the other.
Israeli tanks also resumed heavy shelling in border areas of Gaza, killing five people, including three children and a 70-year-old woman, and wounding 50 in the town of Jebaliya, which was among the areas warned to evacuate, the Red Crescent said.
Many Jebaliya residents said they did not dare attempt an escape. Sufian Abed Rabbo said his extended family of 17 had taken refuge under the stairway in their home.
"God help us. We have nothing to do but pray," the 27-year-old told The Associated Press by phone. "I don't know who left and who stayed, but in our street, we are all very scared to move."
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed concern about the reports of Israeli forces dropping leaflets over northern Gaza Monday evening warning tens of thousands of residents to leave their homes and evacuate to Gaza City, according to a statement released by his spokesman.
"If true, this would have a further devastating humanitarian impact on the beleaguered civilians of those areas of the Gaza Strip, who have already undergone immense suffering in recent days," it said. "The United Nations agencies present in Gaza do not have the resources on the ground to cope with, or provide assistance to, an enormous extra influx of desperate people."
Israel debates further escalation
Israel says its troops will not leave Gaza until they have demolished scores of Hamas military tunnels under the Gaza-Israel border that militants use to infiltrate Israel and smuggle weapons. Hamas says it will not cease fire until it receives international guarantees Gaza's 7-year-old border blockade by Egypt and Israel will be lifted.
President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry have been pressing Israel to accept an immediate and unconditional humanitarian ceasefire.
Israel's last major Gaza invasion ended in January 2009 after 23 days, one-third of that time with troops on the ground. Already, the current ground operation, which began 11 days ago, has lasted longer than the one in 2009.
In recent days, Israeli leaders have debated whether to withdraw from Gaza after the tunnels are demolished, or to expand the ground operation to deliver a more painful blow against Hamas. Those in favour of an escalation have argued that unless Hamas is toppled and disarmed, a new round of Israel-Gaza fighting is inevitable. Opponents say attempting to reoccupy densely populated Gaza, even if for a short period, could quickly entangle Israel politically and militarily and drive up the number of dead.
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