The death toll in a three-day Israeli offensive in Gaza has climbed to at least 84, including a number of children, as officials continue to talk of a lengthy campaign and a possible ground invasion.

An Israeli air strike killed seven Palestinian civilians on Thursday, including five children, in the largest death toll from a single attack since the start of the three-day offensive, the health ministry said.

Residents and medical officials said an Israeli air strike bombed at least two houses in a densely populated area near Khan Younis while residents were asleep, according to a Reuters news agency report.

Bodies were pulled out of rubble from at least three homes and neighbouring structures. The bombing brings the number of children killed this week to at least 18.

On Wednesday night, a Palestinian journalist was killed in central Gaza when Israeli jets bombed his car, which was marked as a TV vehicle.

By midday on Thursday the air force had dropped 800 tonnes of explosives on 750 targets across the strip, a military official said, more than during the entire eight-day war in 2012.

Palestinian health officials said that more than 600 people had been injured. Hospitals in Gaza have been overwhelmed, with supplies of basic items like latex gloves running low.

Egypt temporarily reopened the Rafah crossing with Gaza on Thursday to allow medical supplies to enter, and injured Palestinians to receive treatment in Egypt.

An army official told reporters on Thursday morning that the offensive would remain an aerial campaign, “at least for the next 24 hours.” The security cabinet is due to meet in the afternoon in Tel Aviv to discuss further steps.

Ministers have hinted at a ground offensive, with intelligence minister, Yuval Steinitz, telling Israel Radio that Israel “will have to take over Gaza temporarily, for a few weeks.”

Gaza residents testify about the effects Israel and Egypt’s blockade of their land has had on their lives.
But on Thursday there were still few signs of a military buildup along the border, or the large call-up of reservists that would precede an invasion.

Hamas continues to unveil new weapons and tactics, though so far none of them have caused significant damage.

The group has fired rockets as far north as Haifa, 130km from Gaza. Tel Aviv has been targeted daily, including two salvos on Thursday morning, one of them again timed to coincide with the morning rush hour.

All of the rockets were either intercepted or landed in open areas. No injuries or serious damage was reported.

Hamas has also launched two rockets at Dimona, in the Negev desert, the site of Israel’s nuclear reactor. No impact was reported.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is about to brief the Security Council on Thursday, on a situation that he described as “troubling and volatile”.

“Gaza is on a knife edge,” he said on Wednesday. “I firmly condemn the multiple rocket attacks launched from Gaza on Israel… [and] I condemn the rising number of civilian lives lost in Gaza.”

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