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Diplomats search for cease-fire in Gaza

A ball of fire is seen behind a mosque following an Israel air strike in Rafah near the Gaza Strip's border with Egypt on January 13, 2009 (UPI Photo/Ismael Mohamad) | <a href="/News_Photos/lp/65e34ab76e678412361cbea4985e8641/" target="_blank">License Photo</a>
A ball of fire is seen behind a mosque following an Israel air strike in Rafah near the Gaza Strip's border with Egypt on January 13, 2009 (UPI Photo/Ismael Mohamad) | License Photo

GAZA, Jan. 14 (UPI) -- Efforts to reach a cease-fire in Gaza through diplomatic means persisted as the death toll in the two-week battle swelled to nearly 1,000, officials said.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon began his diplomatic trip to the region with a stop in Egypt, where he repeated his call to Hamas and Israel for a cease-fire in Gaza, Voice of America reported.

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Israel's military said more work needed to be done before its mission of halting Hamas rocket fire into southern Israel is completed. The military wing of Hamas, which controls Gaza, has been hit "to a certain extent" as has the militants' ability to run Gaza, Israeli officials said.

Meanwhile, several rockets also hit northern Israel from neighboring Lebanon, landing near Kiriyat Shmona. No casualties were reported and there was no immediate claim of responsibility.

The head of the International Committee for the Red Cross reported being shocked by conditions he found in Gaza when he visited the strip, VOA reported. He urged both sides to spare civilians and let emergency personnel carry out their work

On the diplomatic front, Hamas officials have indicated they would sign an Egyptian-brokered truce, a statement the White House greeted with skepticism.

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"I think we have to ... wait and see what Hamas really does," White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said during a news briefing Wednesday. "(We) have every right to be skeptical of things that you see in the newspapers reported about Hamas. And so I think we need to wait and see what actually happens."

Since the operation began Dec. 27, 971 Palestinians have died, Palestinian health officials said. Israeli officials report 13 Israelis, including 10 soldiers, have died.

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