Palestinian gunmen kept up attacks against Israeli forces on Sunday in the Gaza Strip's two main cities, weeks after they were overrun by troops and tanks, in a sign Hamas still maintains some control ahead of any potential truce.
Nearly four months into the war there was persistent fighting in Gaza City in the north of the densely populated enclave, and in Khan Younis in the south.
Israel said last week its main focus was now Rafah, on the southern border with Egypt, which has piled pressure on the hundreds of thousands of Palestinian civilians who have fled their homes elsewhere and are sheltering there.
The advance on Rafah is also a worry for Cairo, which has said it would not admit any influx of Palestinian refugees in what it describes a bid to prevent any permanent dispossession.
An Israeli official told Reuters, however, that the military would coordinate with Egypt, and seek ways of evacuating most of the displaced people northward, ahead of any Rafah ground sweep.
Palestinians reported Israeli tank shelling and air strikes there, including one that killed two girls in a house.
After conducting partial pullouts from Gaza City in the past few weeks that enabled some residents to return and pick through the rubble, Israeli forces have been mounting incursions. Before dawn on Sunday, air strikes destroyed several multi-storey buildings, including an Egyptian-funded housing project, residents said.
The Israeli military said it killed seven Hamas gunmen in northern Gaza and seized weaponry. Israel's Army Radio said troops in the area were trying to penetrate two Hamas bunkers.
In Khan Younis, overnight Israeli shelling killed three Palestinians, medics said. Residents reported street fighting raging in western and southern areas of the city, where Israel said a soldier was killed in a Palestinian attack on Saturday.
Gaza health authorities said on Sunday more than 27,300 Palestinians have been confirmed killed since in the war. They say that 70 per cent of those killed were women and children.