Israel’s Channel Two TV said progress was being made on such a deal in Cairo, where a Palestinian delegation was expected, although the station retracted an earlier report that a truce had already been provisionally agreed.
Last night, people in the Jebaliya refugee camp in northern Gaza reported intense tank shelling. Ten members of an extended family were killed and 50 other people wounded in the area, Palestinian health officials said. Two brothers driving in a car with markings of a UN aid agency were killed by shrapnel, an area resident said.
Local hospital officials put the total number of Palestinian dead in the conflict at 1,200, most of them civilians. On the Israeli side, 53 soldiers and three civilians have been killed.
UNRWA, the main UN relief agency in Gaza, said it was at “breaking point” with more than 200,000 Palestinians having taken shelter in its schools and buildings following calls by Israel for civilians to evacuate entire neighbourhoods before military operations.
The Israeli assault intensified after the deaths of 10 soldiers in Palestinian cross-border attacks on Monday, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warning of a long conflict.
The army said it needed about a week to complete its main mission of destroying cross-border infiltration tunnels and there has been strong Israeli public support for holding course.
In a bid to boost Palestinian morale and demoralise Israel, Hamas TV aired footage it said showed its fighters using a tunnel to reach an army watchtower on Monday. They are seen surprising an Israeli sentry, at which point they open fire and storm the watchtower compound to surround a fallen soldier.
Mohammed Deif, the shadowy leader of Hamas’s armed wing, said in a voiceover message in the broadcast that Palestinians would continue confronting Israel until its blockade on Gaza — which is supported by neighbouring Egypt — was lifted.
“The occupying entity will not enjoy security unless our people live in freedom and dignity,” Deif said. “There will be no ceasefire before the (Israeli) aggression is stopped and the blockade is lifted. We will not accept interim solutions.”
Israel has balked at freeing up Gaza’s borders under any de-escalation deal unless Hamas’s disarmament is also guaranteed.
Egypt said it was revising an unconditional truce proposal that Israel had originally accepted but Hamas rejected, and that the new offer would be presented to a Palestinian delegation expected in Cairo later yesterday. An Israeli official said Israel might send its own envoy to Cairo in the evening too.
“We are hearing that Israel has approved a ceasefire but Hamas has not,” an Egyptian official told Reuters.
The US-backed administration of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, saying it was also speaking for Hamas and Islamic Jihad in the Gaza Strip, voiced support for a 24-72 hour ceasefire.
Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri disputed that statement but confirmed there were “intensive, ongoing contacts” on a truce.