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Mon 12 Jan 2009 09:54 AM

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Israel still unrelenting; posts more troops into Gaza

UPDATE 1: Israel's offensive on Hamas continues as reservists push further into Gaza.

Israeli infantry units clashed with Hamas fighters across Gaza on Monday as Israel sent reservists to boost its ground forces and talks on ending the 17-day-old war plodded on in Egypt.

Troops battled Hamas militants across the Gaza Strip, with the most violent clashes reported in the north of the Palestinian enclave, battered by a war that has claimed more than 900 lives.

At least six people were reported killed as a result of Monday's clashes, medics said.

Hamas and its allies remained defiant in the face of the assault, firing three rockets and mortars that crashed inside Israel without causing injuries, the army said.

The fighting came as Israel poured reservists into Gaza to reinforce ground troops that have been operating there for more than a week. The Israeli media speculated the move could be a sign that the offensive could intensify.

In Egypt, which has been spearheading Western-backed efforts to end the war that has sparked widespread protests across the world, talks were due to resume between Egyptian officials and Hamas.

But Israel's pointman for Gaza truce talks, Amos Gilad , delayed a planned visit in what Israeli radio speculated was meant as a pressure tactic on Hamas.

Speaking during the cabinet meeting on Sunday, Olmert said that "Israel has no intention to decrease the pressure on Hamas," a senior Israeli official told AFP on Sunday.

Cairo said that it had held positive talks with a Hamas team, saying the Islamists agreed "on the importance of ... stopping the shedding of Palestinian blood as soon as possible."

Osama Hamdan, Hamas ' representative in Lebanon, told Al-Jazeera television afterwards that "there was some progress on some points" of the Egyptian proposal.

"We reject parts of this proposal ... but that does not mean rejection of all the proposal." He added without elaborating that there had been no progress "on some of the sensitive points."

The negotiations in Cairo are centering on a three-point plan that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak unveiled during the week.

The plan calls for an immediate ceasefire to allow humanitarian aid into Gaza, talks on opening Gaza's border crossings and taking steps to prevent arms smuggling, and relaunching Palestinian reconciliation efforts.

On Sunday, Cairo upped the pressure on Israel by summoning its ambassador to demand that the Jewish state comply with last week's UN Security Council resolution and open humanitarian corridors to relieve the besieged territory.

Both Israel and Hamas have waved off the resolution that called for an immediate end to the fighting.

Israeli officials on Sunday suggested the war the Jewish state unleashed on Hamas in Gaza could be approaching an end, in first such comments since the start of the offensive on December 27.

"The decision of the (UN) Security Council doesn't give us much leeway," Deputy Defence Minister Matan Vilnai told public radio.

"Thus it would seem that we are close to ending the ground operation and ending the operation altogether."

Earlier, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Israel was nearing the goals it had set for its operation, but that fighting would continue for now.

"Israel is approaching these goals, but more patience and determination are required," Olmert told a cabinet meeting.

Since the start of Israel's Operation Cast Lead on December 27, at least 905 people have been killed, including at least 277 children, and another 3,950 wounded, according to Gaza medics.

Ten Israeli soldiers and three civilians have been killed in combat or in rocket attacks since the operation began.

Palestinian militants have fired nearly 700 rockets, some of them penetrating deeper than ever inside Israel.

The conflict has sparked worldwide pro-Palestinian demonstrations, and US president elect Barack Obama said he is assembling a team of diplomats to start addressing the Middle East conflict once he is sworn in on January 20.

Concerns have escalated about the humanitarian situation in Gaza, where most of the 1.5 million population depends on foreign aid.

One million Gazans are currently living without electricity and some 750,000 without water, according to UN estimates.

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