Israeli infantry units battled with Hamas fighters across Gaza on Monday as Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said he hoped Egyptian peace efforts could bring about a swift end to the war.
At least 19 people were reported killed in Monday’s clashes, medics said, pushing the overall toll past the 900 mark in a 17-day-old conflict which has also wounded nearly 4,000 people.
Israeli warplanes pounded the homes of Hamas leaders and ground troops edged closer to the Gaza Strip’s densely-populated urban center.
Thousands of Israeli reservists also joined battle against Hamas, the Islamist movement which has continued to fire missiles into Israel throughout Operation Cast Lead, launched with the avowed intent of ending the rocket attacks.
In Egypt, which has been spearheading Western-backed efforts to end the war that has sparked widespread protests across the world, talks were due to resume between Egyptian officials and Hamas.
But Israel’s pointman for Gaza truce talks, Amos Gilad, delayed a planned visit in what Israeli radio speculated was meant as a pressure tactic on Hamas.
Speaking on a trip to Holon, a suburb of Tel Aviv, Olmert said Israel was achieving its objectives in the conflict. “We hope that the violence will end swiftly but in order for that to come about, two things must happen: rocket fire must stop and the terror organisations must stop rearming,” he said. “These things are not impossible and we are closer to them today than a few days ago.
“I hope that the efforts of recent days by the Egyptians will allow us to end the war,” added Olmert who is to stand down after elections on February 10.
The negotiations in Cairo are centering on a three-point plan that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak unveiled last week.
The plan calls for an immediate ceasefire to allow humanitarian aid into Gaza, talks on opening Gaza’s border crossings and taking steps to prevent arms smuggling, and relaunching Palestinian reconciliation efforts.
Since the start of the operation on December 27, at least 910 people have been killed, including at least 277 children, and another 3,950 wounded.