Among the dead on Monday was a child and a 16-year old girl. The teenage girl, Asma Dwidar died after being hit by a bullet in the chest in the eastern part of the Jabalya camp in Gaza.

The child was killed by Israeli gunfire during another army incursion into a village near Khan Yunus in southern Gaza, according to Palestinian medical and security sources. 

The killings came after an Israeli military chief warned that the troops were there to stay.

"Our forces are ready to operate not just for days but for weeks," Israeli army chief Lieutenant-General Moshe Yaalon told military radio on Monday.

Fighters killed

Early on Monday, Israeli missiles killed four Palestinians in the northern town of Bait Lahya. Among those killed was a Hamas field commander in northern Gaza, Dharif Masri, 29.

The army said the men were detonating a bomb and a missile was fired at them from a helicopter.

The death brought to 73 the number of Palestinians killed by Israeli forces since tanks and troops swarmed into the densely populated Gaza Strip last Tuesday. Hundreds more have been injured.

A few hours earlier, Israeli occupation forces targeted a local Hamas commander in a Gaza City air strike, seriously wounding him, another resistance fighter and a woman, witnesses and hospital officials said. The military had no comment.

Moshe Yaalon: Troops are ready to
continue for weeks

The onslaught in northern Gaza intensified again late on Sunday when about 25 tanks moved into Bait Hanun, the town closest to the Israeli border and the town of Sderot across the fence.

About 15,000 people living in the area of the raid have been without water and electricity for days. 

Land seized

Israeli forces have also seized a 9-km area in Gaza to use as a buffer zone to move its towns out of range of the rockets.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon pledged to expand the area under Israeli control to stop the rocket fire.

"The forces will have to remain there as long as this danger exists," Sharon told army radio.

Sharon is committed to smashing Palestinian resistance groups in advance of an announced withdrawal of settlers and troops from the Gaza Strip.

The onslaught, concentrated in the Jabalya refugee camp, has been deadly.

Palestinians say the Israeli occupation forces have destroyed homes, torn up roads and left a school in ruins. Toys, colouring books, and posters of Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse were scattered in the dust.

International reaction

A school has been reduced to
rubble in the Jabalya camp

Previous Israeli military operations have halted suddenly when civilian casualties soared, and there are signs that the international community is losing its patience.

On Sunday, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan called on Israel "to halt its military incursions into the Gaza Strip, which have led to the deaths of scores of Palestinians, among them many civilians, including children".

The statement from a UN spokesman added: "The secretary-general likewise calls on the Palestinian Authority to take action to halt the firing of rockets against Israeli targets by Palestinian militants."

Resistance reacts

Palestinian resistance groups met over the weekend to discuss the situation. 

Ismail Haniya (2nd R): Israel to
be pressured, not Palestinians

"Factions have discussed how to supply the Palestinians with force elements to face this aggression and protect the resistance, as it is the only weapon through which the Palestinians can defend themselves, defeat the occupation and attain all their rights," Ismail Haniya, a member of Hamas's political bureau told Aljazeera.

"It is obvious that there is a strategic Israeli plan being carried out to end the intifada, eliminate the resistance and break the will of the Palestinians."

Pressure

But Palestinian legislators, following an emergency meeting on Sunday, issued a statement implying that resistance fighters should stop firing rockets at Israel.

"The Palestinian Legislative Council, while asserting our people's right to resist Israel's ugly occupation, calls on all factions to put this resistance in a strategic frame that is consistent with the Palestinian higher interests," the lawmakers said.

However, Haniya said: "All international and regional establishments, including the Legislative Council, should not impose any pressure upon the resistance and Palestinians.

Up to 200 Israeli tanks have been
deployed in and around Gaza

"The pressure should be imposed on the Israeli occupier as it is the one carrying out mass killings in Jabalya refugee camp, Bait Hanun and Bait Lahya, in accordance with the United States."

Monstrous attack

On Sunday, Palestinian President Yasir Arafat referred to Israel's campaign as a "monstrous, criminal, inhumane attack on our people".

He called on "the entire world to act immediately and rapidly to stop the criminal and racist" attack.

On Friday, US state department spokesman Adam Ereli said Israel had the right to defend itself, but added: "We urge Israel to avoid civilian casualties and minimise humanitarian consequences."