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  • 30 July 2014, 3:50

Hamas Defiant As Gaza Suffers Bloodiest Day

The leader of Hamas' military wing has issued a rare statement, saying there will be no end to the fighting with Israel until the blockade of the Gaza Strip is lifted.

In an audiotape played on Al Aqsa TV, Mohammed Deifput his weight behind Hamas' longstanding demand that the punishing seven-year border blockade be brought to an end.

Israel and Egypt closed their borders with Gaza after Hamas took control of the territory in 2007, resulting in severe restrictions on the flow of goods and people.

His comments came as Tuesday's death toll in Gaza hit 128 - making it the bloodiest day of the three-week conflict.

Mr Deif, who has survived numerous assassination attempts and has been in hiding for many years, criticised the killing of civiliansin Israeli airstrikesand artillery barrages.

He said his Qassam Brigades had chosen to target soldiers rather than ordinary Israelis.

His statement followed another failed truce attempt, this time announced by the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) in the West Bank.

Hamas, which is not a member of the PLO, denied reports it had agreed to the deal and Israel rejected any agreement that did not come directly from the group.

Palestinian delegates, headed by Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, were expected in Cairo where they will attempt to negotiate a deal.

However Hamas' refusal to end rocket fire until its demands are met and Israel's intensified military assaultin Gaza means there is little hope of an imminent deal.

Israel stepped up its bombardment by land, air and sea on Tuesday,a day after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned of a "prolonged campaign" against Hamas.

The latest fatalities include multiple members of at least five families.

An employee of a UN aid agency and his brother were reportedly killed when shrapnel from a strike hit a car with UN markings in Jebaliya.

Power supplies were also crippled by the destruction of the territory's only power plant.

A spokesman for Gaza's electricity distribution company said the plant, which supplies two thirds of the territory's energy needs, was hit by shells fired from an Israeli tank, a claim which could not be verified.

The total Palestinian death toll now stands at 1,200. Another 7,000 people have been injured and thousands are said to have fled their homes.

Israel has lost 53 soldiers, along with two civilians and a Thai national.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu launched the aerial offensive against Gaza on July 8, declaring the aim was to halt rockets fired by Hamas and its allies into Israel.

The ground invasion began shortly afterwards in order to destroy a network of cross-border tunnels which Hamas militants are reported to be using to infiltrate Israel.

Israel says five of its soldiers were killed late on Monday after militants entered Israel using one such tunnel.

US Secretary of State John Kerry reiterated support for Israel's right to defend itself, but said the US is working towards deescalating the conflict.

He told reporters: "We are working very carefully with our Israeli friends in order to reduce the civilian loss of life, to prevent this from spiralling downwards into a place from which both sides have difficulty finding a way forward in order to address the underlying issues".

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