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Israel targets Gaza bank as diplomats work to negotiate a ceasefire

A Palestinian walks past the Islamic National Bank in Gaza City after it was destroyed on Tuesday.Ahmed Jadallah / Reuters

As Israel and Hamas exchanged more fire overnight into Tuesday, diplomats in Cairo worked furiously toward a ceasefire agreement. 

During the overnight strikes, of which there were 100, Israel Defense Forces targeted the National Islamic Bank, which Hamas uses to pay its employees, according to its blog.

It has been a lopsided fight since the violence began in southern Israel seven days ago, with more than 100 dead in Gaza and three dead in Israel.

The conflict between the two sides ratcheted up after Israel launched an air strike Wednesday that killed Ahmed al-Jabari, Hamas’s top military leader. Hamas, deemed a terrorist organization by the U.S. and Israel, won parliament seats in Gaza in 2006 and took control of the area in 2007.

Israel's declared goal is to deplete Gaza arsenals and press Hamas into stopping cross-border rocket fire that has plagued Israeli border towns for years.

But both sides are amenable to a truce and have stated their conditions: Hamas demands that Israel stop killing its leaders and asks for more freedom to travel and to import goods, NBC’s Richard Engel reported. According to al-Jazeera news service, Khaled Meshaal, a Hamas leader, said Israel must lift a six-year blockade of the Gaza Strip.

Israel has asked for a ceasefire, according to an Egyptian diplomat, more talks and that Hamas deliver its weapons.

Related: Hamas says land war would cost Israel PM Netanyahu the election

In Gaza, Israeli drones have targeted Hamas militants, but those militants often reside in densely populated areas, and civilians are among the casualties. Hamas will not say how many of its militants have been killed, but NBC’s Richard Engel said his count is around 40.

In Israel, the Iron Dome defense system has been praised for shooting down rockets launched by Hamas – 130 rockets were launched on Monday. The Iron Dome has been a huge success, reports NBC’s Martin Fletcher, but it misses two out of 10 rockets.

The Iron Dome system is also pricey -- $30 million a battery, of which Israel has five. Israel needs 13 to protect the whole country. Each rocket costs $100,000 but is viewed as well worth the cost – by saving lives, there is less pressure on the government to invade Gaza, Fletcher explained. Israel also has more time to negotiate a truce.

Egyptian diplomats and youth activists have visited Gaza in the last six days – unheard of in the past. For the newly-elected Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, the negotiations could determine whether Egypt can once again play a role in solving the Middle East’s big problems, reports NBC’s Ayman Mohyeldin.

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