Kerry: ‘I Have Taken Hits Before In Politics’

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Secretary of State John Kerry delivers remarks while releasing the 2013 Annual Report on International Religious Freedom on July 28, 2014, at the US State Department in Washington, D.C. (credit: PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images)

Secretary of State John Kerry delivers remarks while releasing the 2013 Annual Report on International Religious Freedom on July 28, 2014, at the US State Department in Washington, D.C. (credit: PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images)

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GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (CBS News/CBSDC/AP) — Israel escalated its military campaign against Hamas on Tuesday, striking symbols of the militant group’s control in Gaza and firing tank shells that Palestinian officials said shut down the strip’s only power plant in the heaviest bombardment in the war so far.

Hours after the power plant was hit, thick black smoke still rose from the plant’s burning fuel tank. The station’s shutdown was bound to lead to further serious disruptions of the flow of electricity and water to the 1.7 million people packed into the narrow Palestinian territory.

The heavy strikes were a new blow to international efforts to reach a sustainable truce in the fighting, now in its fourth week.

At least 100 Palestinians were killed Tuesday, including 36 who died in airstrikes and tank shelling on five homes, according to Palestinian health officials and the Palestinian Red Crescent. In one strike Tuesday afternoon, 10 members of one family were killed and 50 people were wounded in tank shelling in the northern Gaza town of Jebaliya, the officials said.

“It was like an earthquake,” Moussa al-Mabhouh, a volunteer for Gaza’s Civil Defense, said of the scene. “Roofs collapsed, walls cracked and wounded people everywhere.”

That pushed the overall death toll since the conflict began on July 8 to at least 1,156, according to Gaza Health Ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Kidra.

Israel has reported 53 soldiers and three civilians killed.

In the West Bank, a top PLO official offered a 24-hour truce Tuesday, saying he also spoke in the name of Hamas. “There is a proposal from the UN to extend the truce to 72 hours; a proposal that we favorably consider,” said PLO Secretary-General Yasser Abed Rabbo.

But the Islamic militants said they want to hear from Israel first. Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev declined comment.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahuwarned Monday night of a “prolonged” campaign in Gaza, and as CBS News’ Barry Petersen reported from Gaza City, the evidence was swift to come. Israeli forces hammered 70 targets overnight, including the power plant and Hamas’ television network, al-Aqsa, which the Israelis said was feeding information to the militants.

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 each side blamed on the other.

In the West Bank, a top PLO official offered a 24-hour truce Tuesday, saying he also spoke in the name of Hamas. “There is a proposal from the UN to extend the truce to 72 hours; a proposal that we favorably consider,” said PLO Secretary-General Yasser Abed Rabbo.

But the Islamic militants said they want to hear from Israel first. Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev declined comment.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahuwarned Monday night of a “prolonged” campaign in Gaza, and as CBS News’ Barry Petersen reported from Gaza City, the evidence was swift to come. Israeli forces hammered 70 targets overnight, including the power plant and Hamas’ television network, al-Aqsa, which the Israelis said was feeding information to the militants.

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 each side blamed on the other.

Israel has targeted several homes of Hamas leaders but none has been killed – presumably because they have kept a low profile. Haniyeh said in a statement Tuesday that “destroying stones will not break our determination.”

The scene at the Gaza power plant after two tank shells hit one of three fuel tanks was daunting. “We need at least one year to repair the power plant, the turbines, the fuel tanks and the control room,” said Fathi Sheik Khalil of the Gaza Energy Authority. “Everything was burned.”

He said crew members who had been trapped by the fire for several hours were evacuated.

Even before the shutdown, Gaza residents only had electricity for about three hours a day because fighting had damaged power lines. Most of the power lines from Israel that provided electricity for payment were previously damaged in the fighting.

This means most of Gaza will now be without power. The lack of electricity will also affect water supplies, since power is needed to operate water pumps.

Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, an Israeli military spokesman, did not comment on the explosion at the plant, but told The Associated Press that Israel’s latest strikes signal “a gradual increase in the pressure” on Hamas.

Israel is “determined to strike this organization and relieve us of this threat,” Lerner said.

International calls for an unconditional cease-fire have been mounting in recent days, as the extent of the destruction in Gaza became more apparent.

The house of the mayor of the Bureij in central Gaza was hit in an airstrike, and five bodies were pulled from the rubble, the Red Crescent said. Those killed included the mayor, 50-year-old Anas Abu Shamaleh, his 70-year-old father and three relatives.

In the southern town of Rafah, seven members of one family were killed in an airstrike and seven members of a second family were killed when tank shells hit their home, according to the Rafah office of the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, which keeps a casualty count.

In central Gaza, seven people, including five members of one family, where killed by tank shelling on a home, the Red Crescent said.

Tens of thousands of Gazans have been displaced by fighting in the border areas, which have come under heavy tank fire. Late Monday, Israel urged residents of three large neighborhoods in northeastern Gaza to leave their homes and immediate head to Gaza City.

In the West Bank, Yasser Abed Rabbo, the secretary general of the Palestine Liberation Organization, called for a 24-hour cease-fire and said the offer was made after consultations with Hamas and the smaller Islamic Jihad group.

However, Izzat Rishq, a senior Hamas official in exile, said his group wanted to hear from Israel first.

The largest group in the PLO is the Fatah movement of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Hamas’ main political rival. Hamas is not a member.

Despite appeals for a cease-fire, both sides have been holding out for bigger gains.

Hamas has said it will not stop fighting until it wins international guarantees that a crippling border blockade of Gaza will be lifted. Israel and Egypt had imposed the closure after Hamas seized Gaza in 2007, defeating forces loyal to Abbas. Over the past year, Egypt has further tightened restrictions, shutting down hundreds of smuggling tunnels under the Egypt-Gaza border that had provide crucial tax income to Hamas. The closure of the tunnels drove Hamas into a severe financial crisis.

Israel has said it is defending its citizens against attack from Gaza by hitting Hamas rocket launchers, weapons storage sites and military tunnels under the Gaza-Israel border.

Israel said its troops will not leave Gaza until they have demolished the tunnels which have been used by Hamas to sneak into Israel to try to carry out attacks.

The military said Palestinian militants fired at least 64 rockets Tuesday at Israeli cities.

Meanwhile, the U.N. refugee agency for Palestinians said it found a cache of rockets hidden inside of one of its schools. It said the school was closed for the summer and was not being used as a shelter.

“We condemn the group or groups who endangered civilians by placing these munitions in our school”, agency spokesman Chris Gunness said. “This is yet another flagrant violation of the neutrality of our premises.”

It marked the third time since the Gaza war began that the U.N found weapons hidden in one of its schools.

Meanwhile in Washington, Democratic and Republican members of Congress scrambled Tuesday to seal a $225 million boost to Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system before they break this week for a month-long recess.

As the Gaza war escalates, Israel is proving to be among the few subjects uniting lawmakers. Members of both parties have introduced legislation backing the Jewish state, condemning the Palestinian militant group Hamas and seeking a tougher Iran policy. Iron Dome is the priority, but the House and Senate are at odds over process.

Secretary of State John Kerry said Tuesday widespread criticism of his efforts to win a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas don’t worry him and said he will continue to work toward that goal because Netanyahu asked him to.

“I have taken hits before in politics, I am not worried about it,” he told reporters at the State Department. “This is not about me.”

Kerry said he is convinced that a humanitarian cease-fire in Gaza followed by negotiations to resolve the underlying causes of the conflict is “more appropriate” than continuing to wage war.

(TM and © Copyright 2014 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2014 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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