Israel-Hamas Violence Worsens; Death Toll Rises to 24

The death toll from attacks on both sides of the Israel-Hamas conflict rose to 24 on Friday, even as a temporary truce during the Egyptian prime minister's visit to Gaza collapsed after Palestinian militants fired more rockets into southern Israel. In response, Israel launched a bomb attack on northern Gaza.

During Egyptian Prime Minister Hesham Kandil's visit, a child and a militant were killed inside a house, raising the Palestinian death toll in Gaza to 21, The Washington Post reported. On Thursday, two Israeli men and one woman were killed in a rocket attack in Kiryat Malakhi town, about 18 miles north of Gaza.

Israel had agreed to hold its military offensive against the Gaza Strip during Kandil's three-hour visit provided Hamas militants also suspended their fire.

The Egyptian prime minister's visit followed Thursday night's intense airstrikes by Israel in response to Gaza militants' rocket attacks on Tel Aviv for the first time. The Israeli military said Friday morning it was preparing for a possible ground operation – which would be second in four years – with its 16,000 reservists.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said he will "take whatever action is necessary." On Wednesday, Israelis killed Hamas military chief Ahmed al-Jabari in a missile strike. The Palestinian Authority has called on the U.N. Security Council to ensure that Israel stops its air raids on Gaza. However, the United States has criticized Hamas.

In a statement, the White House acknowledged on Wednesday Egypt's "central role in preserving regional security," and said that President Barack Obama condemned Hamas' rocket fire from Gaza into Israel and supported Israel's right to self-defense.

Obama, who has urged Netanyahu to avoid civilian casualties, is finding it difficult to deal with the Israel-Palestine clash. Unlike former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who was secular and pro-U.S., the incumbent Islamist President Mohammed Morsi is a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, to which the Gaza Strip's rulers also belong.

After Obama spoke with Morsi on Wednesday, the Egyptian leader gave an account contrary to the White House statement. Morsi claimed he told Obama that Israel's offensive must stop and should not be repeated and that the leaders "agreed that Egypt and the United States will work together to prevent any escalation or the continuation of the aggression," The Associated Press reported Thursday.

Later, Morsi denounced Israel's "unacceptable aggression" and sent his prime minister to Gaza in a show of support for Hamas' rulers.

Morsi's response to the conflict has confused U.S. officials but they remain hopeful that his government will be able to convince Gaza's militant leaders for a truce. Morsi appears moderate if compared with the head of the Muslim Brotherhood, Mohammed Badie, who said on Thursday that Israel was "the project of the devil."

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