Israel and Gaza's Hamas rulers have traded fire and ceasefire proposals with threats to escalate their border conflict as no deal appeared near.
An Israeli air strike targeting a Gaza media centre 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 on Monday. Two more Palestinians were killed in air strikes past midnight, bringing the death toll since the start of Israel's offensive to 111, including 56 civilians. Around 840 people have been wounded, including 225 children, Gaza heath chiefs said. Three Israeli civilians have been killed and dozens 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 on Monday killed five people - a father and his four-year-old twin sons in northern Gaza and two people in the south, medics said.
Egypt, the traditional mediator between Israel and the Arab world, was at the centre of a flurry of diplomatic activity on 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 was first seeking a halt to fighting before other conditions were discussed.
Mashaal said Hamas would agree to a ceasefire only if its demands were met. "We don't accept Israeli conditions because it is the aggressor," he said. "We want a ceasefire along with meeting our demands." Mashaal also suggested that Israel's threat of invading Gaza was simply a ploy. He said Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu "is waving the threat of a ground offensive and asking the world to pressure Egypt, Turkey and Qatar, so they pressure Hamas".
Israeli leaders have repeatedly threatened to widen the offensive, saying an invasion is an option. Israel has amassed troops on the Gaza border and begun calling up thousands of reservists. But an Israeli official emphasised that Israel hopes to find a diplomatic solution. "We prefer the diplomatic solution if it's possible. If we see it's not going to bear fruit, we can escalate," he said. He added that Israel wanted international guarantees that Hamas would not rearm or use Egypt's Sinai region, which abuts Gaza, for militant activity.
As part of global efforts to end the Gaza fighting, United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon arrived in Cairo yesterday and is due to meet Israel's president Shimon Peres.