More than 900 Palestinians have died, including 277 children and 95 woman, since the Israeli operation began on December 27 and there are fears that any push into urban areas could cause even greater casualties.

Aerial bombardment

The Israeli military said air raids were carried out on at least 25 targets across the Gaza Strip including groups of Palestinian fighters, rocket-launching sites and smuggling tunnels in the southern Rafah area.

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The homes of Hamas leaders, which Israel said contained weapons stores, were also hit.

"The army achieved in 16 days what no other country in the world fighting terror has done in 16 years," Shimon Peres, the Israeli president, said on Monday.

"The IDF [Israeli Defence Force] is making great achievements in terms of caution and operations in Gaza. It must continue that way."

However, Palestinian fighters have continued to fire rockets across the border into southern Israel, despite the stated aim of the offensive being to end these attacks, and Hamas said it would continue to battle Israeli troops inside Gaza.

"The Palestinian resistance is standing steadfast on the battlefield as it is in the political arena," Khaled Meshaal, Hamas's exiled political leader, said.

"The resistance cannot be broken in the face of the Israeli aggression, nor can our resolve despite the deep wounds, the great pains, the massacres, the destruction, the punishments and mass killings."

Thirteen Israelis have been killed since the offensive began, including three civilians hit by rocket fire.

Ehud Olmert, Israel's prime minister, said that the military operation would end once Hamas's military wing halted its rocket attacks.

"We want to end the operation when the two conditions we have demanded are met: ending the rocket fire and stopping Hamas's rearmament. If these two conditions are met, we will end our operation in Gaza," he said in the southern town of Ashkelon.

"Anything else will meet the iron fist of the Israeli people, who are no longer ready to tolerate the Qassams."

Egyptian diplomacy

Amos Gilad, a senior Israeli official, was expected to attend talks on an Egyptian ceasefire plan on Monday, but delayed his visit in what Israeli radio speculated was meant as a pressure tactic on Hamas.

The three-point plan calls for an immediate truce to allow humanitarian aid into Gaza, talks on opening Gaza's crossings and taking steps to stops weapons smuggling, and relaunching Palestinian reconciliation efforts.

Gaza's hospitals are struggling to cope with the nearly 4,000 Palestinians injured [AFP]
Salam Fayyad, the Palestinian prime minister whose remit is limited to the West Bank, has said that the Egyptian initiative offers the best hope of peace.

"Not accepting the Egyptian initiative should not be an option," he said. "He who refuses, voices reservations or moves slowly on this initiative bears the responsibility of explaining themselves, especially to the people of Gaza."

Osama Hamdan, a Hamas leader in Lebanon, told Al Jazeera that the Palestinian group was still discussing the Egyptian plan.

"What is offered until now is less than what the Palestinian people wanted. There may be some other initiatives raised in the next few days," he said.

Meanwhile, Egyptian authorities allowed 61 Arab doctors to enter the Gaza Strip via the Rafah crossing on Monday morning to help treat some of the nearly 4,000 Palestinians who have been injured in the bombardment.

"I don't know if the world disaster would cover the situation in Gaza right now, from the medical point of view it is a critical situation," Dr Dragfinn Bjorklid, the co-ordinator for the Norwegian Aid Committee, told Al Jazeera.

"I am in the Shifa hospital where I have been for six days," he said. "It is overwhelming with all the patients coming in, we are receiving between 120 and 200 cases every day in the emergency surgical department.

"There are lacks of even basic disposables and medicines and equipment, and also possibly most important is the lack of maintenance of the equipment here."

Aid deliveries

More than 100 lorries carrying aid were allowed to enter the territory via the Kerem Shalom crossing on Monday and another 60 were expected to pass through the Kari point.

However, Princess Haya bint al Hussein, a UN Messenger of Peace and wife of the ruler of Dubai, told Al Jazeera that efforts to get aid into the Gaza Strip have been hampered.

"I heard yesterday that from the 10 trucks we had scheduled to go in, which started at 15, now we've been asked to drop the capacity of each truck by 10 per cent.

"Things like this when the food is ready to go in, sitting on the border really do cause major frustrations.

"I can't understand why we have red tape in humanitarian efforts."