GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip - An Israeli bomb pummeled a home deep into the ground here Sunday afternoon, killing 11 people, including nine in three generations of a single family, in the deadliest single strike since the cross-border conflict between Israel and the militant faction Hamas escalated on Wednesday.
The airstrike, along with several others that killed civilians across this coastal territory and hit two media offices - one of them used by Western TV networks - further indicated that Israel was striking a wider range of targets.
Gaza health officials reported that the number of people injured had doubled to 720; the Palestinian death toll climbed to 81, including 20 children. Three Israelis have been killed and at least 79 wounded by continued rocket fire into southern Israel and as far north as Tel Aviv, as Israeli cities were paralyzed by an onslaught of rocket fire out of Gaza for the fifth straight day.
Even as President Barack Obama, beginning an Asia visit, supported Israel's "right to defend itself," he also said that "if that can be accomplished without a ramping up of military activity in Gaza, that's preferable." And he described an urgent international effort to secure a cease-fire, saying, "We're going to have to see what kind of progress we can make in the next 24, 36, 48 hours."
But as cease-fire talks began in Cairo on Sunday, both sides were digging in, officials close to the negotiations said. An emboldened Hamas made sweeping demands, including the permanent opening of the border crossing between Gaza and Egypt and the end of the Israeli blockade.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, meanwhile, has stuck to his demand that all rocket fire cease before the Israeli campaign lets up. Tens of thousands of reserve troops have been called up. "The army is prepared to significantly expand the operation," Netanyahu said at the start of a Cabinet meeting.
In the deadliest Israeli strike on Sunday, it took emergency workers and a Caterpillar digger more than an hour to reveal the extent of the devastation under the two-story home of Jamal Daloo, a shop owner. Daloo was at a neighbor's when the blast wiped out nearly his entire family: His sister, wife, two daughters, daughter-in-law and four grandchildren ages 2 to 6 all perished under the rubble, along with two neighbors, an 18-year-old and his grandmother.
"We were asleep and then there was a terrific blast," said Abdul-Latif Dahman, who lives nearby and was among more than 100 who stood vigil as the bodies were dug out. "There are no words to describe what happened later, only smoke and dust and heavy silence because the sound shut our ears."
The smell of bomb residue and the roars of bulldozers filled the air as people clambered over shattered glass and bent iron bars to get a closer look. When two tiny bodies were finally found, rescuers and residents erupted in cries of "God is great!" One worker rushed the girl to an ambulance, while a neighbor grabbed the boy and just ran.
Ismail Haniyeh, the prime minister of the militant Hamas faction that rules Gaza, condemned the attack as a "massacre" that "exceeded all expectations."
Brig. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, chief spokesman for the Israeli military, said it was "examining the event."
"The wanted target in this case was responsible for firing dozens of rockets into Israel," he added. "I do not know what happened to him, but I do know that we are committed to the safety of the citizens of Israel."
Momentarily lulled by a quiet night, Israelis awoke Sunday to a new blitz of Palestinian rockets that totaled nearly 100 by nightfall, including two that soared toward the population center of Tel Aviv but were knocked out of the sky by the so-called Iron Dome missile defense system.
Routine activity in the region ground to a halt as people huddled in bomb shelters, where many have been spending the night. Malls were closed; few walked in the street.
"I am the kind of person that always checks where the bathrooms and the exits are," said Carol Erdheim, a psychologist who lives in Ashdod. "Now you look for where the safe room is. You just know what to do. It is a way of living."
In Gaza, among the buildings Israel hit overnight were two containing the offices of local media outlets, in what the military described as an attempt to derail Hamas communications.
Ayman Amar, a spokesman for Lebanese-based broadcaster Al Quds television, said seven camera operators and editors were injured, one losing a leg below the knee.
The Jerusalem chapter of the Foreign Press Association lodged a protest; several international outlets, including Fox News, Sky News, CBS and Germany's ARD television, used productions studios in the two targeted media buildings.
Israel's Vice Prime Minister Moshe Yaalon, who is in charge of strategic affairs, said the strike "didn't intend to target journalists," and said he had asked the military to investigate. "The attack helicopters were to hit Hamas military antenna - that was the target, not journalists."