* Israel and Hamas each expect the other to hold fire first
* Opinion poll shows Israeli support for a ground war is
* Thousands turn out for funeral of family killed in Gaza
GAZA/JERUSALEM, Nov 19 (Reuters) - Israel bombed dozens more
targets in the Gaza Strip on Monday and said that, while it was
prepared to step up its offensive by sending in troops, it
preferred a diplomatic solution that would end Palestinian
Egypt said a deal for a truce could be close, though by late
evening there was no end to six days of heavy missile exchanges
as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu discussed his next
steps with his inner circle of senior ministers.
U.S. President Barack Obama called Egypt's President Mohamed
Mursi, who has been trying to use his influence with Hamas, his
fellow Islamists who run Gaza, to broker a halt. Obama
"underscored the necessity of Hamas ending rocket fire", the
White House said.
The leader of Hamas, speaking in Cairo, said it was up to
Israel to end a new conflict that he said it had started.
Israel, which assassinated a Hamas military chief on Wednesday,
says its air strikes are to halt Palestinian rocket attacks.
To Mursi and in a subsequent call to Netanyahu, Obama said
he regretted the deaths of Israeli and Palestinian civilians.
Israeli attacks on the sixth day of fighting raised the
number of Palestinian dead to 101, the Hamas-run Health Ministry
said, listing 24 children among them. Subsequent deaths raised
the toll in Gaza to 106. Hospital officials in the enclave said
more than half of those killed were non-combatants. Three
Israeli civilians died on Thursday in a rocket strike.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, touring the region in
the hopes of helping to broker a peace deal, arrived in Cairo,
where he met Egypt's foreign minister in preparation for talks
with Mursi on Tuesday. He also plans to meet Netanyahu in
With the power balances of the Middle East drastically
reshaped by the Arab Spring during a first Obama term that began
two days after Israel ended its last major Gaza offensive, the
newly re-elected U.S. president faces testing choices to achieve
Washington's hopes for peace and stability across the region.
Militants in the Gaza Strip fired 110 rockets at southern
Israel on Monday, causing no casualties, police said. Israel
said it had conducted 80 air strikes on the enclave. The figures
meant a relative easing in ferocity - over 1,000 rockets have
been fired in the six days, and 1,350 air strikes carried out.
For the second straight day, Israeli missiles blasted a
tower block in the city of Gaza housing international media. Two
people were killed there, one of them an Islamic Jihad militant.
Khaled Meshaal, exile leader of Hamas, said a truce was
possible but the Islamist group, in charge of the Gaza Strip
since 2007, would not accept Israeli demands and wanted Israel
to halt its strikes first and lift its blockade of the enclave.
"Whoever started the war must end it," he told a news
conference in Cairo, adding that Netanyahu, who faces an
election in January, had asked for a truce, an assertion a
senior Israeli official described as untrue.
Meshaal said Netanyahu feared the domestic consequences of a
"land war" of the kind Israel launched four years ago: "He can
do it, but he knows that it will not be a picnic and that it
could be his political death and cost him the elections."
For Israel, Vice Prime Minister Moshe Yaalon has said that
"if there is quiet in the south and no rockets and missiles are
fired at Israel's citizens, nor terrorist attacks engineered
from the Gaza Strip, we will not attack".
Yaalon also said Israel wanted an end to guerrilla activity
by militants from Gaza in the neighbouring Egyptian Sinai
Although 84 percent of Israelis support the current Gaza
assault, according to a poll by Israel's Haaretz newspaper, only
30 percent want an invasion.
"Israel is prepared and has taken steps, and is ready for a
ground incursion which will deal severely with the Hamas
military machine," an official close to Netanyahu told Reuters.
"We would prefer to see a diplomatic solution that would
guarantee the peace for Israel's population in the south. If
that is possible, then a ground operation would no longer be
required. If diplomacy fails, we may well have no alternative
but to send in ground forces," he added.
Egypt, where Mursi has his roots in Hamas's spiritual
mentors the Muslim Brotherhood, is acting as a mediator in the
biggest test yet of Cairo's 1979 peace treaty with Israel since
the fall of Hosni Mubarak early last year.
"I think we are close, but the nature of this kind of
negotiation, (means) it is very difficult to predict," Egyptian
Prime Minister Hisham Kandil, who visited Gaza on Friday in a
show of support for its people, said in an interview in Cairo
for the Reuters Middle East Investment Summit.
Egypt has been hosting leaders of both Hamas and Islamic
Jihad, a smaller armed faction.
Israeli media said a delegation from Israel had also been to
Cairo for truce talks. A spokesman for Netanyahu's government
declined comment on the matter.
Egypt's foreign minister, who met U.N. chief Ban on Monday,
is expected to visit Gaza on Tuesday with a delegation of Arab
THOUSANDS MOURN FAMILY
Thousands turned out on Gaza's streets to mourn four
children and five women who were among 11 people killed in an
Israeli air strike that flattened a three-storey home the
The bodies were wrapped in Palestinian and Hamas flags.
Echoes of explosions mixed with cries of grief and defiant
chants of "God is greatest!".
Those deaths drew more international calls for an end to
hostilities and could test Western support for an offensive that
Israel billed as self-defence after years of cross-border rocket
Israel said it was investigating the strike that brought the
home crashing down on the al-Dalu family, where the dead spanned
four generations. Some Israeli newspapers said the house might
have been targeted by mistake.
In scenes recalling Israel's 2008-2009 winter invasion of
the coastal enclave, tanks, artillery and infantry have massed
in field encampments along the sandy, fenced-off border.
Israel has also authorised the call-up of 75,000 military
reservists, so far mobilising around half that number.
The Gaza fighting adds to worries of world powers watching
an already combustible region, where several Arab autocrats have
been toppled in popular revolts in the past two years and a
civil war in Syria threatens to spread beyond its borders.
In the absence of any prospect of permanent peace between
Israel and Islamist factions such as Hamas, mediated deals for
each to hold fire unilaterally have been the only formula for
stemming bloodshed in the past.
Hamas and other groups in Gaza are sworn enemies of the
Jewish state, which they refuse to recognise and seek to
eradicate, claiming all Israeli territory as rightfully theirs.
Hamas won legislative elections in the Palestinian
Territories in 2006. A year later, after the collapse of a unity
government under President Mahmoud Abbas, it seized Gaza in a
brief civil war with Abbas's forces.