Michele Chabin, Ruth Eglash and Naser Najjar, Special for USA TODAY
GAZA CITY -- Hamas said a truce had been reached between Israel and Gaza, though Israel couched the news by saying an agreement was close but not a done deal.
Hamas official Ayman Taha said the truce would go into effect early Wednesday, according to Reuters news service.
However, Mark Regev, spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said the announcement by Hamas was premature. He said Israeli military operations were continuing at the same time as diplomatic talks, and that Netanyahu would be coming out with a statement soon.
Earlier in the day, Egypt's president said a cease-fire agreement was close to stopping "Israeli aggression" despite the firing of more rockets at Israel on Tuesday, including one toward Jerusalem that exploded outside the city.
President Mohammed Morsi issued his statement to reporters in the city of Zagazig, the Egyptian state news agency MENA reported. He said negotiations between Israel and Gaza's Hamas rulers will yield "positive results" Tuesday, but he would not elaborate.
Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton was scheduled to arrive in the region Tuesday to help with diplomatic efforts to seek a truce.
But Hamas' top military commander, Mohammed Deif, urged Hamas on Tuesday to keep up the attacks on Israel, saying Hamas "must invest all resources to uproot this aggressor from our land," a reference to Israel. He spoke on Hamas-run TV and radio from hiding.
There was no let-up in terror attacks against Israel, as dozens of rockets were fired in the morning at southern Israeli towns and one streaked near Jerusalem. People ran for safety or dropped to the ground in the Israeli capital as the sirens wailed.
Parents "abandoned their cars in the middle of the street and ran with their children," said Uriel Laloum, school security guard at the Efrata Elementary School.
"The younger children were especially upset," said Laloum of the school, which was crowded with people attending parent-teacher conferences. "Many were crying."
Several rockets fired from Gaza landed not in Israel but in the territory of the West Bank, near Bethlehem, where Palestinians live. One landed between two Arab villages near Gush Etzion, 15 minutes' drive south of Jerusalem.
Some Palestinians in East Jerusalem were worried.
"We hope that something will happen soon," said Samir Abu Khalaf, a resident of Beit Hanina in East Jerusalem. "Everybody, the people here in East Jerusalem, they don't like to make problems and we are concerned for our children.
"We want a solution immediately," he said. Morsi has to push Hamas and Israel.
The Israeli Defense Forces said 48 rockets fired from Gaza on Tuesday landed inside Israel as of 5 p.m. local time, on top of 51 rockets that were intercepted by Israel's Iron Dome system.
Israeli aircraft flew more attack missions to stop the rockets and hit terrorists and their facilities. The jets pounded the headquarters of a Hamas bank.
Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said the rocket aimed at Jerusalem apparently did not strike the city and authorities are searching for the blast site, the Associated Press reported.
It's the second rocket attack aimed at Jerusalem since a round of fighting broke out between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza last Wednesday. Jerusalem, nearly 50 miles from Gaza, is the most distant city the terrorists have targeted.
In Gaza City, meanwhile, the Israeli strike on the Islamic National Bank was part of an escalating Israeli assault against Gaza terrorists meant to quell rocket attacks on Israeli cities. The bank was set up to evade international sanctions on its rule.
Hamas leaders said during cease-fire talks that they would not end the rocket attacks unless Israel ended a blockade of Gaza borders that it maintains to keep weapons out of the hands of terrorists.
The standoff was being discussed in Cairo where diplomats from Egypt and Turkey were in talks with Hamas about a cease-fire. An Israeli official was in Cairo, but the Israeli government would not comment.
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon, who is in Cairo on an emergency mission to negotiate a truce, said that the situation was "alarming."
"This must stop, immediate steps are needed to avoid further escalation, including a ground operation," Ban said from Cairo. "Both sides must hold fire immediately. ... Further escalation of the situation could put the entire region at risk."
On Tuesday, the White House said that President Obama is sending Clinton to the Middle East in hopes that she can help mediate the conflict. Clinton will begin by meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem.
By Tuesday, civilians accounted for 54 of the 113 Palestinians killed since Israeli airstrikes began last Wednesday in response to the launching of nearly 200 rockets against Israeli towns. Some 840 people have been wounded, including 225 children, Gaza health officials said.
Israel has said that Hamas bears responsibility for the deaths of civilians because terrorists are using civilians as shields.
Egyptian Prime Minister Hesham Qandil told Reuters that a cease-fire agreement may be signed soon. "I think we are close, but this kind of negotiations is very difficult, and it is hard to make predictions."
But the leader of Hamas rejected Israel's demands that the group stop its rocket fire. Instead, Khaled Mashaal said Israel must meet Hamas' demands for a lifting of the blockade of Gaza.
"We don't accept Israeli conditions because it is the aggressor," he told reporters in Egypt. "We want a cease-fire along with meeting our demands."
An Israeli official said Israel hoped to find a diplomatic solution to the crisis as well and signaled Egypt was likely to play a key role in enforcing any truce.
"We prefer the diplomatic solution if it's possible. If we see it's not going to bear fruit, we can escalate," he said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive diplomatic efforts underway.
If the rockets continue, a ground invasion may be launched to stop the missiles, according to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Some analysts say such a course carries a risk for Israel.
"I think for Hamas the risk of a ground invasion is that they basically get dominated on the battlefield and that is likely what would happen," said Jonathan Schanzer of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies in Washington. "But on the Israeli side there is some real risk, too. The longer (Netanyahu) stays in this war, the greater the possibility that something goes wrong... unwelcome civilian casualties could potentially hurt him."
One of the Israeli airstrikes Monday hit a Hamas television building that had been struck previously over the weekend, killing four members of Islamic Jihad, a terrorist group that is backed by Iran, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) announced.
The four targeted terrorists included Baha Abu el Ata, a Gaza brigade commander involved in firing rockets into southern Israel; Tyseer Abu Al Ata, a senior Islamic Jihad member; and Halil Bahatini, involved in the Islamic Jihad's long-range rocket launchings.
Islamic Jihad announced on a website that commander Ramez Harb was killed in the strike, which the IDF said was a significant operation involving intense intelligence efforts.
The IDF said the men were involved in getting into Gaza the long-range Fajr-5 rockets that are made in Iran and sneaked into Gaza through smuggling tunnels from Egypt. These rockets have a much wider range than other rockets of Hamas and can reach almost anywhere in Israel.
It is those missiles that Israel has been targeting and hoping to destroy, according to the IDF.
Israel has also been attacking homes of activists in Hamas, which has orchestrated the firing of more than 1,100 rockets into Israel, the IDF said. Israel's Iron Dome defensive missile system has shot down 320 of the rockets, the IDF said.
About 75 Hamas rockets were fired Monday, among them one that hit an empty school. Others hit a house and a yard.
In Gaza, some people were moving deeper into the territory to try and avoid Israeli airstrikes. Power outages were lasting 10 hours a day.
Panic spread through Gaza City on Tuesday evening after Israel Defense Forces dropped leaflets on the north of the city warning residents to evacuate.
"When we left our office we saw a lot of traffic and couldn't find a taxi to get home because people were busy evacuating their families using any transport possible," said Sukrit Kapoor, a lawyer with the Palestinian Center for Human Rights in Gaza City, which had evacuated its offices.
Thousands of Israeli troops and armored vehicles were massed along the Gaza border awaiting orders. Leaders of Hamas, the U.S. designated terrorist group the rules Gaza, exhorted its members to keep firing rockets.
Kapoor said some Gazans would rather see a cease-fire.
"They are very much hopeful for it, and very much want that to happen but right now it is difficult to be assured," he said. "A lot of people were displaced today so they are not very convinced that a cease-fire is close."
Others Gazans said they wanted to keep up the attacks against Israel even it meant more dead in Gaza, where Israeli airstrikes have targeted militants orchestrating the attacks.
Israeli strikes destroyed Abdullah Ashour's home, killed one of his sons and seriously injured another.
"The Israelis not capable of targeting the resistance, that's why they keep on targeting the normal civilians," said Ashour. "I'm willing to give up my other five sons for the sake of the cause."
In Ashkelon in southern Israel "Code Red" sirens sounded throughout Monday in cities, towns and open areas.
Even though the Iron Dome defense system intercepted most of the projectiles, there were several direct hits on buildings and yards. A handful of people were injured and many were dealing with shock from the constant blasts, said Benny Vaknin, mayor of Ashkelon.
The mayor spoke while looking over damage to Henry Ronson High School in Ashkelon, where a Hamas-fired rocket had scored a direct hit, bursting through the cement roof of a school walkway. The rocket did not explode and the school was empty at the time.
"The difference between our operation and that of Hamas is that they aim to hit schools and areas crowded with civilians," Vaknin said.
Alerts and air raid sirens were heard throughout the day in Israel's south from Beer Sheva and Sderot all the way up to Ashdod and beyond. There were two rocket interceptions near Tel Aviv.
Any cease-fire deal would draw mixed reviews from the Israeli towns and villages that have been the target of Hamas rockets.
Israelis are solidly behind the military action. Six days into the aerial attack on Gaza, 84% of the Israeli public said it supports so-called Operation Pillar of Defense, according to a Haaretz-Dialog poll taken Sunday.
Oranit Ben-Gira, 25, is among those who supports the military strikes and is against an immediate cease-fire.
"For the past four years we've suffered through rocket fire that's made it impossible to lead normal lives," Ben-Gira said. "We need to do the job in Gaza so we can live in peace."
In Beer Sheva, most of the city's 200,000 residents took shelter in secure rooms, if they had them, or bomb shelters. Hundreds of regular soldiers and reservists waited at Beer Sheva's Central Bus Station for transport to the Gaza border some 25 miles away.
The mostly young men and women in uniform (women are also drafted in Israel) said they were trying to stay upbeat.
"I need to go and help my country any way I can," said Naftali Kassa, 27, a driver in civilian life. His rumpled uniform, taken out of storage, and gray sneakers identified him as a reservist.
Ehud Zion-Waldoks, a university spokesman who moved from Jerusalem to Beer Sheva four months ago, decided to temporarily relocate his wife and three young children from harms ways.
Zion Waldoks returned to Beer Sheva for work this morning, after which five sirens wailed.
"For one siren there were four booms, one of which shook the house," he said. "I feel safe in my house because we have an actual bomb shelter off the kitchen. I don't feel safe outside, going to and from work. My wife, who can't work on her doctorate due to the situation, and kids are now in Jerusalem."
He said his 5-year-old daughter was "a little upset" when a siren sounded in Jerusalem "after we'd told her the rockets couldn't reach there."
Right now he and his wife "take it day by day. We assess every evening what will be done. I don't' know whether this - either not being at home or being at home with five sirens a day - is possible long term."
Hanita Shariki sought shelter at a public bomb shelter in the Central Bus Station, an underground concrete room that can accommodate more than 100 people. She was not in favor of a cease-fire.
"The army mustn't stop until it's done the job," she said as she climbed the stairs out of the shelter, the rocket having hit a house.
The Negev desert area, where Beer Sheva is located, is home to nearly 200,000 Bedouin Arabs who live in towns, cities and encampments. Some said they don't like the rocket attacks from Gaza, but their sympathies lie with the Palestinians.
"I wish the army would stop shelling Gaza," said Aisha al Hawasha, 21, a Bedouin student from a village near Dimona.
Dressed in a traditional Muslim head scarf and robe, al Hawasha acknowledged that "it's difficult to live with the rocket fire" from Gaza, but also that it is "difficult to see what is happening to our brothers in Gaza."
Contributing: Ruth Eglash in Jerusalem; Associated Press