An Israeli missile flattened a two-story house in a residential neighborhood of Gaza City Sunday, killing four young children and eight other civilians, most from the same family, Palestinian sources said.
The bloodshed is considered likely to raise international pressure for a cease-fire, with Egypt taking the lead in mediating between Israel and Hamas. Ghazi Hamad, a Hamas leader in Gaza, said Israel and Hamas had agreed on about 90 percent of the conditions for a cease-fire, Al Jazeera reported.
The Israel Defense Forces said nine Palestinians were killed accidentally in the missile strike, in which a top operative in Hamas' rocket program was hit. It is not clear if he was killed. The army, which had originally said the Hamas rocket chief was hit in the air strike, is investigating.
The attack on the Daloo home in Gaza City was the single deadliest incident in the 5-day old Operation Pillar of Defense, and images from the site were broadcast repeatedly on Al Jazeera.
Palestinians fired at least 75 rockets at Israel Sunday, a steep drop from a weekend in which about 230 rockets were fired daily. More than 10 Israelis were wounded by shrapnel, two moderately, according to police spokesman Mickey Rosenfeld.
In the southern city of Ashkelon, rocket fire damaged a residential building. Israel's Iron Dome missile defense system intercepted about 40 rockets Sunday, including two aimed at the Tel Aviv area.
Despite the report of the diplomatic progress, the IDF continues to prepare for a possible ground incursion. Large contingents of ground forces and Armored Corps troops have assembled near Gaza and reservist units are conducting training exercises.
"The north to the south or the south to the north are within rocket range, and it really doesn't matter whether you live in Sderot or Tel Aviv," IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz told reservists. "We will operate with discretion on the one hand and determination on the other, and we will do everything we have to do in line with the situation assessments."
At the start of the weekly cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said "the Israeli military is prepared to significantly expand the operation."
More than a dozen homes of Hamas commanders or families linked to Hamas were struck Sunday, at least three with family members inside. Gaza health official Ashraf al-Kidra said 19 of the 24 Palestinians killed Sunday were civilians, mostly women and children.
Vice Premier Moshe Ya'alon said civilian casualties were inevitable.
"You can't avoid collateral damage if they position the rockets in densely populated areas, in mosques, in school yards," he said.
Israel also struck two high-rise buildings housing media outlets, damaging the top-floor offices of Hamas TV station Al Aqsa and a Lebanese-based broadcaster, Al Quds TV, seen as sympathetic to the Islamists. Six Palestinian journalists were wounded, including one who lost a leg, a Gaza press association said. European broadcasters also had offices in the high-rises.
Lt. Col. Avital Leibovich, an IDF spokeswoman, said the strikes targeted Hamas communications equipment on the buildings' rooftops.
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