Israeli tanks and warplanes have bombarded the Gaza Strip, as Hamas militants stuck to their demand for the lifting of an Israeli and Egyptian blockade in the face of US efforts to reach a ceasefire.

The 16-day conflict has claimed the lives of 718 Palestinians, most of them civilians, Palestinian health officials say.

Israel has lost 32 soldiers, all since July 17, when it widened its air campaign into a full-scale ground operation aimed at halting rocket fire from Gaza and destroying a sophisticated network of cross-border tunnels.

Two Israeli civilians and a Thai worker in Israel have also been killed.

Israeli combat soldiers walk towards a staging area before entering the Gaza Strip. Photo: Jinipix/Israel Sun.

Israeli combat soldiers walk towards a staging area before entering the Gaza Strip. Photo: Jinipix/Israel Sun.

Gaza police and health officials say six members of the same family and an 18-month-old infant boy were killed when Israeli fighter jets struck the Jebaliya refugee camp early today.

Twenty others were injured in the strike, they say, and rescue officials were digging through the rubble of flattened homes, looking for survivors.

US secretary of state John Kerry, who met United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon for the second time this week, flew to Israel yesterday on a US Air Force jet, despite a ban imposed a day earlier by the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on commercial flights into Ben-Gurion Airport because of Hamas rocket fire.

The FAA dropped the ban just before midnight, but European airlines have extended their cancellations throughout today.

Speaking in Jerusalem yesterday, Mr Kerry said: “We certainly have made steps forward.

“There’s still work to be done.”

Underscoring the challenges he faces, the leader of Hamas insisted the Islamic militants would not relent until their main demand of lifting an Egyptian-Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip is met.

In a televised speech from his home-in-exile in Doha, Qatar, Khaled Mashaal said: “When it comes to the balance of power in this crisis between us and Israel, they are the executioners, the aggressors, the occupiers, the settlers, and we are the true owners of the land.

“We will not accept anything but the end of the siege.”

Israel imposed the blockade in 2006 after Hamas and other militants abducted an Israeli soldier in a deadly cross-border raid.

It tightened the siege in 2007 after Hamas seized power from forces loyal to Western-backed Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, but has eased some of the restrictions in recent years.

Egypt tightened its own restrictions last year after the overthrow of a Hamas-friendly government in Cairo and has destroyed many of the cross-border smuggling tunnels that sustained Gaza‘s economy, and which were also used by Hamas to bring in arms.