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Israel talks cease-fire in Egypt, while widening range of targets in Gaza

Egypt has been leading international efforts to broker a truce between Israel and Gaza. On Sunday, an Israeli envoy talked with Egyptian officials, but Israel and Gaza's Hamas rulers have yet to compromise.

By Ibrahim Barzak and Karin LaubAssociated Press / November 18, 2012

Palestinian relatives of Samaher Gdeeh mourn next to her body during her funeral in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip November 18. Egypt is currently attempting to broker a truce between Israel and Gaza's Hamas rulers, as fighting continues.

Ibrahemm Abu Mustafa/Reuters

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Gaza City, Gaza Strip

An Israeli envoy held talks with Egyptian officials Sunday on a ceasefire in his country's offensive on Gaza as Israel widened the range of its targets, striking more than a dozen homes of Hamas militants and two media officials. Seven civilians were killed, including five children, in the conflict's highest one-day civilian toll yet, according to security officials and witnesses.

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Upon arrival at Cairo's international airport, the Israeli official was whisked away directly from the tarmac and taken to talks with Egyptian authorities, Egyptian security officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the press. They did not identify the Israeli official.

Egypt has been leading international efforts to broker a truce since Israel launched its offensive five days earlier aimed at stopping Gaza rocket attacks. But Israel and Gaza's militant Hamas rulers remain far apart on any terms.

Hamas is linking a truce deal to a complete lifting of the border blockade on Gaza imposed since Islamists seized the territory by force. Hamas also seeks Israeli guarantees to halt targeted killings of its leaders and military commanders. Israeli officials reject such demands. They say they are not interested in a "timeout," and want firm guarantees that the rocket fire will finally end. Past ceasefires have been short lived.

As the offensive moved forward, Israel found itself at a crossroads — on the cusp of launching a ground offensive into Gaza to strike an even tougher blow against Hamas, or pursuing Egyptian-led truce efforts.

"The Israeli military is prepared to significantly expand the operation," Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared at the start of the weekly Cabinet meeting.

At the same time, Gaza militants continued their barrage of rocket fire, firing more than two dozen at Israel on Sunday, including a longer-distance projectile that targeted Tel Aviv for a fourth straight day. One rocket damaged a home in the southern city of Ashkelon, punching a hole in the ceiling. Israel's "Iron Dome" rocket-defense system shot down seven rockets, including the one aimed at Tel Aviv, police spokesman Mickey Rosenfeld said. Eight Israelis were wounded by shrapnel Sunday, one of them moderately.

Expanding targets to strike the homes of suspected commanders appeared to mark a new and risky phase of the operation, given the likelihood of civilian casualties in the densely populated territory of 1.5 million Palestinians.

New strikes on Sunday leveled homes in Gaza, burying residents under the rubble as rescuers frantically dug for survivors. In all, 57 Palestinians have been killed, including 24 civilians, and more than 400 civilians have been wounded, medics say.

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