— As diplomacy intensifies to stop the cross-border attacks between Israel and the Gaza Strip, Palestinian medical workers say more than 19 people were killed by Israeli air strikes Monday, bringing the death toll to at least 96 Palestinians and three Israelis.
The attacks continued as diplomatic efforts in Cairo are reportedly making headway at halting the aerial volleys between Israel and Gaza, now in their sixth day.
Israel's military said Monday it bombed dozens of sites in Gaza, including several buildings housing police of the Hamas movement which controls the territory.
The militant group Islamic Jihad said a strike on a Gaza media tower that houses many foreign journalists killed one of the top commanders in its armed wing, the Al Quds Brigades. It was the second time the building has been hit in as many days.
Watch related video of Israeli offensive in Gaza
Israel said it also targeted underground rocket launching sites and tunnels used to smuggle and hide weapons.
Freelance journalist Mohamed Dawwas told VOA that while fear is palpable in Gaza, the attitude of residents has hardened after days of airstrikes.
"I see them strong. They really want to continue," he said. "I mean if the Israelis continue bombarding Gaza, they want the resistance to continue resisting the occupation. They really think they are stronger than before, [that] they can face it this time."
Meanwhile, Palestinian militants in Gaza fired dozens of rockets into Israel. No casualties were reported as Israel said its Iron Dome missile defense system intercepted rockets headed towards populated areas.
Palestinian mourners carry the bodies of members of the al-Dallu family during a funeral procession in Gaza City on November 19, 2012.
Thousands of chanting Gazans marched in a funeral procession for 13 people, including 11 from one family, who were killed in an Israeli air strike Sunday.
Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri accused Israel of targeting civilians. He said Israeli military operations are failing, leaving Israeli forces to aim at women and children.
Israel accuses Palestinian militants of using civilians areas in Gaza to hide weapons and rocket launching sites. It says Hamas is targeting residential areas in Israel.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the army is prepared to significantly expand the offensive if necessary but that Israel prefers a diplomatic solution.
Israel has deployed hundreds of tanks and thousands of troops near Gaza in preparation for a possible ground offensive.
Israeli President Shimon Peres told special Middle East envoy Tony Blair that Israel's only aim is to stop the rockets.
"I think this time Israel is clear that we don't have any ambitions to conquer land or to gain any advantages but, really, to stop the fire," he said.
Blair called for a cease-fire.
"I very much hope that over the coming days we can achieve cessation on a basis that is sustainable, on a basis that stops the threat of missiles coming from Gaza targeted at Israeli civilians, and also then relieves the people of Gaza who have also suffered of course," he said.
Blair was one of several international mediators converging on the region hoping to broker an end to the violence which drastically escalated last Wednesday after an Israeli air attack that killed the head of the Hamas military wing.
In Cairo, Egyptian-mediated talks to reach a truce between Palestinians and Israelis are ongoing. United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon arrived in Cairo Monday to support the efforts. While Israel and Hamas were far apart in their demands, both sides said they were open to a diplomatic solution - and prepared for further escalation if that failed.
Israel is demanding that Hamas stop its rocket fire first.
But Khaled Meshaal, the exiled leader of Hamas, said on Monday that Israel must take the first step.
"Whoever started the war must end it," Meshaal said at a news conference in Cairo.
Smoke billows from the site of an Israeli airstrike in Gaza City, November 21, 2012.
A Palestinian man reacts as flames and smoke rise from a smuggling tunnel after an Israeli strike along the border between Egypt and Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, November 21, 2012.
Israelis look at a blown up bus at the site of a bombing in Tel Aviv, Israel, November 21, 2012.
Israeli rescue workers and paramedics carry a wounded person from the site of a bombing in Tel Aviv, Israel, November 21, 2012.
Palestinian children stand in rubble after an Israeli strike on a house in Gaza City, November 20, 2012.
An Israeli soldier stands on a tank at a staging area near the Israel-Gaza Strip Border, November 20, 2012.
A Palestinian inspects the damage to a soccer stadium after an Israeli air strike in Gaza City, November 19, 2012.
Smoke and fire rise up from an explosion in Gaza City, November 19, 2012.
A Palestinian man waves the national flag during a protest against Israel's operations in Gaza Strip, outside Ofer, an Israeli military prison near the city of Ramallah, November 18, 2012.
An Israeli police officer gestures in front of a burning car after a rocket fired by Palestinian militants in Gaza landed in the southern city of Ashkelon, November 18, 2012. (Reuters)
Members of the Palestinian Civil Defense help a survivor after he was pulled out from under the rubble of his destroyed house after an Israeli air strike in Gaza City, November 18, 2012.
An Iron Dome launcher fires an interceptor rocket in the southern city of Ashdod, Israel, November 16, 2012.
A Palestinian man kisses the body of one of his children during their funeral in the northern Gaza Strip, November 18, 2012.
An Israeli soldier runs with his weapon during a drill simulating a possible ground invasion into the Gaza Strip, at a base south of the West Bank city of Hebron, November 17, 2012.