With the death toll in the conflict with Israel topping 100, Gaza residents are left to bury their dead. Meanwhile, ceasefire talks unfold to the background of a threatened Israeli offensive.

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Hamas leader Khaled Meshal has called on the Jewish state to stop what he calls its thuggery and aggression in Gaza.

Mr Meshal said Israel must halt what he described as its attack on the Gaza Strip and lift the blockade of the Palestinian territory in exchange for a truce that he said the Israeli government was seeking.

Israel has denied it has sought a ceasefire.

"We are not against calm (a truce)... but there must specific demands... in summary, that the Israeli thuggery and aggression stop... and the siege on Gaza be lifted," he said at a news conference in Cairo where peace talks are being brokered by Egypt.

Earlier Mr Meshal said that Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu had called for a truce after "the weapons of the resistance have caught the enemy off guard".

Shortly afterwards, Israel issued a denial that it had requested the ceasefire.

Suffering

Other developments in the almost week-long crisis included reports that the Lebanese army has dismantled two rockets in southern Lebanon which were apparently aimed at Israel, security sources told Reuters.

In the latest Israeli airstrikes, 10 civilians and two Hamas field commanders have been killed according to hospital officials. The death toll in the conflict has now risen above 100.

The UN secretary general visited Egypt on Monday for talks with Egyptian president Mohamed Mursi, the foreign ministry in Cairo said. UN diplomats said Mr Ban was to visit Egypt and Israel to push for an end to the fighting.

"I am heading to the region to appeal personally for ending the violence and contribute to ongoing efforts to that end," he said in a statement.

"Any further escalation will inevitably increase the suffering of the affected civilian populations and must be avoided."

The UN secretary general has already called on Israel and Hamas to "stop this dangerous escalation" in the Gaza Strip to avoid further bloodshed in Israel and the Palestinian territories, calling the rocket attacks unacceptable.

With Gaza bombarded and fighting entering its six day on Monday, some weary Palestinians wonder if the UN secretary general's visit to the region will make any difference.

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'Dramatic increase'

Binyamin Netanyahu on Sunday said Israel was ready to widen military operations after rockets and gunboats bombarded Gaza targets, including buildings housing journalists and families. President Barack Obama said he supported Israel's right to defend itself from attacks coming from outside its borders, and that he would be watching developments for a diplomatic solution.

UK Foreign Secretary William Hague warned on Sunday that a ground assault on Gaza would be difficult for the international community to support. Israel has nonetheless mobilised 75,000 troops and amassed tanks at the border.

However, Daniel Taub, the Israeli ambassador to the UK, said that a "dramatic increase" in violence meant it "could not sit still" and had to start mobilising its forces.

Asked if he was worried that Israel would lose international support and sympathy if a ground invasion was launched, Mr Taub told ITV's Daybreak: "We are very concerned about international support but also very concerned about the lives of our citizens and in that case we have to do what any responsible country would do.

"We don't want to have a ground operation. The answer is Hamas to stop firing and to have a genuine ceasefire that is going to last."

Gaza bombarded

The streets of Gaza City were largely empty on Sunday as Israel continued pounding Gaza. At least nine people - including several children - died when an apartment was hit. The target was believed to have been a Hamas official. Israel attacked buildings it knew to house journalists in fighting overnight on Sunday, injuring six including a cameraman who lost his leg.

Residents roaming the abandoned city centre said they did not expect Ban's visit to bring about a change.

"He came here during the last war and did nothing for us," a man called Yousif told reporters. "He will speak about taking action but will not do anything."

Ban visited Gaza in January 2009, at the end of a bruising Israeli assault on Gaza during which the Jewish state first bombarded then briefly invaded the coastal strip, hoping to put a halt to the rockets once and for all.

Rocket attacks

Resident Falah Ibrahim welcomed the UN chief's visit, however, saying he hoped it would yield a positive outcome.

"He is most welcome, but we hope that it (Ban's visit) will be a positive one," he said.

Israel began bombing Gaza on Wednesday with an attack that killed the Hamas military chief in a campaign Israel said was in response to Hamas missiles fired on its territory. Hamas stepped up rocket attacks in response.

Palestinians have launched dozens of rockets into Israel and targeted its commercial capital, Tel Aviv. Israel has reportedly suffered three deaths as a result.

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