On Tuesday Israeli troops advanced into the densely populated Gaza suburbs for the first time leaving residents terrified as they ran for cover. Soldiers are searching alleyways and cellars to find Hamas fighters.

On the diplomatic front, Egyptian mediators pushed Hamas to accept a truce proposal and, in a hopeful sign, Israel sent its lead negotiator to Cairo for decisive talks on a cease-fire. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also headed for the region to join diplomatic efforts.

Israeli military officials say that depending on what happens with what they described as decisive talks in Cairo, Israel will move closer to a cease-fire or widen its offensive. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were discussing sensitive policy matters.

The coastal city of 400,000 inhabitants I snow virtually surrounded by Israeli troops.

Early Wednesday an Israeli warplane fired a missile at the former Gaza city hall, used as a court building in recent years, witnesses said. The 1910 structure was destroyed and many stores in the market around it were badly damaged, they said.

According to Palestinian hospital officials, more than 940 Palestinians have died, half of which are civilians.

Israel says it will push forward with the offensive until Hamas ends all rocket fire on southern Israel, and there are guarantees the militant group will stop smuggling weapons into Gaza through the porous Egyptian border.

Hamas on the other hand said it will only observe a cease-fire if Israel withdraws from Gaza.