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Israel, Hamas exchange tough cease-fire plans amid escalating hostilities

  • A view of the central Gaza Strip as seen from a hill at the Israeli town of Sderot, Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2012. Israel's prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel would be a "willing partner" in a cease-fire with Gaza's ruling militant group Hamas. He made the pronouncement Tuesday at a meeting with U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon, who is in the region as part of an international diplomatic push to end nearly a week of fighting between Israel and Hamas. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip -- Israel and Gaza's Hamas rulers traded fire and tough cease-fire proposals Monday, and threatened to escalate their border conflict if diplomacy fails. No deal appeared near.

An Israeli airstrike targeting a Gaza media center killed a senior militant and engulfed the building in flames, while Gaza fighters fired 95 rockets at Israel, nearly one-third of them intercepted by an Israeli missile shield.

A total of 38 Palestinians were killed Monday. Two more Palestinians were killed in airstrikes past midnight, bringing the death toll since the start of Israel's offensive to 111, including 56 civilians. Some 840 people have been wounded, including 225 children, Gaza heath officials said. Three Israeli civilians have been killed and dozens have been wounded.

Over the weekend, civilian casualties in Gaza rose sharply after Israel began targeting the homes of what it said were suspected militants. Two such strikes late Monday killed five people -- a father and his 4-year-old twin sons in northern Gaza and two people in the south, medics said.

Jamal Daloo, who lost his wife, a son, four grandchildren and five other members of his family in an attack Sunday, sat in quiet mourning Monday next to the ruins of his home, his face streaked with tears.

"The international public opinion witnessed the facts," he said, speaking as his 16-year-old daughter, Yara, was still missing under the rubble being cleared away by bulldozers. "This does not require my words."

Egypt, the traditional mediator between Israel and the Arab world, was at the center of a flurry of diplomatic activity Monday. Egyptian intelligence officials met separately in Cairo with an Israeli envoy and with Khaled Mashaal, the top Hamas leader in exile.

Hamas wants Israel to halt all attacks on Gaza and lift tight restrictions on trade and movement in and out of the territory that have been in place since Hamas seized Gaza by force in 2007. Israel demands an end to rocket fire from Gaza and a halt to weapons smuggling into Gaza through tunnels under the border with Egypt.

With positions far apart on a comprehensive deal, some close to the negotiations suggested Egypt is first seeking a halt to fighting before other conditions are discussed. They spoke on condition of anonymity because the talks are in a sensitive stage.

Mashaal told reporters that Hamas would only agree to a cease-fire if its demands are met. "We don't accept Israeli conditions because it is the aggressor," he said. "We want a cease-fire along with meeting our demands."


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