GAZA – At least 26 people have died in the Gaza Strip as Israeli forces kept up air strikes they say are aimed at stopping rocket attacks into Israel.
Fewer rockets have been launched, but Israeli towns are still being hit.
Five Palestinians and three Israelis have died in six days of violence, the latest including a militant group commander.
Efforts to secure a ceasefire continue, with a senior Egyptian official saying there are “encouraging signs”.
Khaled Meshaal, the political leader of the Islamist movement Hamas which controls Gaza, said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had requested a ceasefire but that it was up to Israel to stop the war that, he said, it had started.
Israel immediately denied making any such request, Reuters news agency reported.
Mr Meshaal said that a truce was possible in Gaza, as was further escalation of the conflict.
Morale in Gaza was high and anyone who attacked the Palestinians would be “buried”, he added.
Egyptian President Mohammed Mursi has said an Israeli ground invasion would have “serious repercussions”, saying Egypt would never accept it “and neither will the free world”.
Mr Netanyahu said on Sunday that he was ready to expand the operation, after Israel authorised the mobilisation of up to 75,000 army reservists.
The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said they targeted about 80 sites overnight into Monday alone, including militant-owned buildings, weapons storage facilities and police stations, bringing its total to 1,350 sites targeted since Wednesday.
Strikes continued on Monday, with a leading figure in the militant group Islamic Jihad, named as Ramez Harb, killed as a building housing media workers was targeted.
One of the overnight blasts destroyed a Hamas police headquarters.
Gaza militants launched 32 missiles into Israel on Monday, of which four were intercepted, said the IDF. One hit a school in the Israeli city of Ashkelon. Classes had already been cancelled. Another hit a house. There are no reports of casualties.
At least nine children were killed in Gaza on Sunday – the bloodiest day so far – and TV reports showing horrific images of their burned and bloodied bodies have been fuelling Palestinian anger, says the BBC’s Jon Donnison in Gaza City.
In one strike, nine members of the family of Hamas policeman Mohamed Dalou were killed – four of them children.
The army’s chief military spokesman, Yoav Mordechai, told Israel’s Channel 2 TV that the intended target of the strike had been Yehiya Rabiyah, the head of Hamas’s rocket-launching unit, but that there had been “civilian casualties”.
Later, the IDF told the BBC that the house had been targeted because it was thought Mr Rabiyah might be hiding there but officials did not know whether he was inside at the time of the attack.
War or peace?
Egypt has been leading efforts to broker a peace deal, with both senior Israeli and Hamas officials in Cairo for talks. An Egyptian official said he hoped to be able to make an announcement on Monday or Tuesday.
The BBC’s Middle East editor, Jeremy Bowen, says it is feared the conflict might get worse before any truce is agreed.
Since the conflict began, 877 rockets were fired towards Israel – 570 hit Israel and 307 were intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defence system, the IDF says.
Before the recent offensive, Israel had repeatedly carried out air strikes on Gaza as Palestinian militants fired rockets across the border.
But the aerial and naval bombardment is its most intense assault on the territory since Israel launched a full-scale invasion four years ago.
Hamas seized control of Gaza in 2007, a year after winning a decisive victory in general elections. Israel withdrew from the strip in 2005 but maintains a blockade around it.
Israel, as well as the United States and the European Union, regards Hamas as a terrorist organisation.
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