More than 1,000 Palestinians have been killed in the Gaza Strip as Israeli ground forces pushed deeper into densely-populated urban areas with artillery and tank shells on Thursday.
Thousands of civilians fled their homes on Thursday as tank shells and missiles exploded causing black smoke to rise above the neighbourhoods of Tal al-Hawa, Zeitun and Shujaiyeh in Gaza City.
The Israeli attacks killed at least 15 Palestinians, medical officials said.
Residents were fleeing their homes in their pyjamas, some wheeling elderly parents in wheelchairs. Others were stopping journalists' armored cars or ambulances pleading for someone to take them to safety.
Terrified residents of Gaza city, reeling from Israel's most relentless shelling since it began its offensive on Dec. 27, huddled in homes that provided precarious shelter.
Gazans could be seen fleeing on foot as explosions sent plumes of smoke skyward.
"It is a catastrophe," one woman said, walking quickly away from the area and carrying a child in her arms as two other children ran behind her to keep up.
"We took our money and passports. We have to carry some identification with us in case we get killed," she said. "Hamas can claim victory if it wants but we just need this bloodshed to end."
Rasha Hassam, a 25-year-old engineer, ran out of her apartment building carrying her screaming 6-year-old daughter, Dunia.
"God help us, God help us, where can we flee?" she cried. "All I want is to get my poor child away from here. We want to survive."
Thousands of others were trapped in Tel Hawwa's high-rise buildings by the fire, too afraid to even attempt to flee.
Much of the fighting was centred in the Tel al-Hawa neighbourhood. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) said its compound was hit twice by Israeli shelling and three staff members were injured.
Israeli forces have encircled the city of 500,000 people for days with tanks.
Human rights groups have reported shortages of vital supplies, including water, in the territory. A fuel shortage has brought frequent power blackouts.
The Palestinian death toll from the air-and-ground offensive has risen to at least 1,055, according to the Health Ministry in Gaza.
A Palestinian rights group said at least 670 of the dead were civilians.
Thirteen Israelis have been killed -- 10 soldiers and three civilians hit by rocket fire.
An Israeli envoy was to meet Egyptian mediators in Cairo on Thursday after a Hamas delegation concluded talks on an Egyptian truce proposal.
Thursday's talks come after Egypt said it had obtained the agreement of the Hamas movement, which controls Gaza, on the "broad outlines" of a truce.
Hamas said its delegates had provided the Egyptian mediators with the group's views on the plan.
"The movement has presented a detailed vision to the Egyptian leadership so that it can continue its pursuit to end the aggression and lift the injustice on our people in the Gaza Strip," Salah al-Bardawil, a Hamas official, said.
"The Egyptian leadership will ... discuss the views with the aggressor to reach the goals that we want. During this period we will monitor," he told a news conference after talks with Egyptian intelligence officials in Cairo.
"The Egyptian initiative is the only initiative that has been put forward to us, and we continue to co-ordinate with this."
The Egyptian plan calls for an immediate ceasefire followed by a long-term truce and the opening of Gaza's border crossings.
Ahmed Abul Gheit, the Egyptian foreign minister, said that Hamas's position would be given to Amos Gilad, the Israeli envoy sent to Cairo for the talks.
We will tell the Israelis what we have obtained from our brothers Hamas," Abul Gheit said.
Hamas demands for an end to Israel's blockade of the Gaza Strip, in effect since 2007, and an opening up of crossing points to normal traffic.