The top Hamas leader in the Gaza Strip signaled Monday that the Islamic militant group will not agree to an unconditional cease-fire with Israel, saying that the aim of the current battle is to break a 7-year-old blockade of the Palestinian territory.
Ismail Haniyeh's comments came as U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry headed to Cairo for the highest-level cease-fire efforts since Israel-Hamas fighting erupted July 8.
More than 540 Palestinians and 20 Israelis have been killed in the past two weeks of fighting. Tens of thousands of people from Gaza have been displaced.
President Barack Obama expressed serious concern about the rising number of casualties in the Gaza Strip Monday, calling for an immediate ceasefire. He's asking Secretary of State John Kerry to do whatever he can to help negotiate one at talks in Egypt.
The president says Israel has already done significant damage to Hamas. But he says he doesn't want to see more civilians getting killed.
Last week, Egypt called for an unconditional cease-fire, to be followed by talks on easing the closure of Gaza. Israel accepted the proposal at the time, but Hamas rejected it, saying it wants guarantees first on lifting the closure.
The blockade was imposed by Israel and Egypt after Hamas overran Gaza in 2007. Over the past year, Egypt has further tightened restrictions, driving Hamas into a deep financial crisis.
Haniyeh said in a televised speech Monday that "we cannot go back, we cannot go back to the silent death" of the blockade.
He said all of Gaza's 1.7 million residents shared this demand.
"Gaza has decided to end the blockade by its blood and by its courage," he said. "This siege, this unjust siege, must be lifted."