Tel Aviv called up thousands of reservists shortly after the launch of 'Operation Cast Lead' and dispatched them into the devastated Gaza Strip on Sunday, the 16th consecutive day of its attacks, signaling possible preparations for a new phase of its onslaught.
Sunday's penetration was Israeli troops' deepest advance into the Gaza Strip since they launched their bloody assault on December 27.
Hamas and the Islamic Jihad said they ambushed the Israelis, leading to some of the heaviest fighting since January 3 when Israel first sent ground forces into the coastal territory.
Medics and witnesses said on Sunday that during a series of Israeli airstrikes and tank shellings on dozens of targets, including houses all over the Gaza Strip, 38 Palestinians were killed and 80 others were wounded. Gaza emergency chief Mo'aweya Hassanein told reporters that most of those killed and wounded were civilians.
Since Israel's offensive started, more than 900 Palestinians have been killed and thousands have been wounded.
The Popular Front to Liberate Palestine's (PFLP) radio station quoted witnesses as saying that earlier on Sunday evening, Israeli warplanes struck the Hamas-run ministry of culture in the center of Gaza City, and a 4-story house was also destroyed by an air-to-ground missile.
Challenging international calls for ceasefire, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told the cabinet on Sunday that the country 'is nearing' its goals, and that 'the offensive will continue'.
Palestinians said that Israeli attackers have moved to within half a mile of Gaza City's southern neighborhoods, and within a quarter-mile of the northern neighborhood of Sheikh Ajleen.
In the past 24 hours into overnight Sunday, Israeli warplanes have heavily bombed about 60 locations throughout Gaza, while Palestinian forces have fired at least 19 rockets into Israel.