Israeli Airstrikes Kill More Than 200 in Gaza

Israeli airstrikes launched in response to Palestinian rocket and mortar attacks have killed more than 200 people in the Gaza Strip.

Palestinian sources say saturday's raids on Hamas security compounds in the territory wounded more than 300 others. Television footage showed bodies of uniformed security men lying on the ground at a Hamas installation.

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak warned the operation against Hamas security targets in Gaza will expand as necessary.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert vowed to avoid civilian casualties in Gaza, and said Hamas is Israel's target. He also pledged to avert a humanitarian crisis.

Hamas vowed to avenge the attacks and fired more than 50 rockets into southern Israel, killing one person and wounding at least five others.

The Israeli raids triggered condemnation in the Arab world. The Arab League has scheduled an emergency meeting Sunday to assess the situation. Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa says Libya will call on members of the U.N. Security Council to meet as soon as possible to deal with the situation in Gaza.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, a rival of Hamas, denounced the air strikes and called for restraint. Egypt also condemned the air raids and said it would open its border with Gaza to allow some of the wounded to be brought out. Protesters in the Jordanian capital, Amman, condemned the Israeli attack.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, the European Union and Russia urged Hamas and Israel to stop the fighting. The United States called on Israel to avoid civilian casualties. White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe also said Hamas must end its terrorist activities if it wants to play a role in the future of the Palestinian people.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says she holds Hamas responsible for breaking a six-month cease-fire that ended last week and for the renewal of violence in Gaza. She says the cease-fire must be restored immediately.

The Vatican says all sides must look for a different way out, even if that may seem impossible.

Tensions between Israel and Hamas have escalated since the cease-fire expired. The Israeli raid follows days of rocket and mortar attacks on Israel by militants in Gaza, and Israeli warnings of reprisal attacks.

By: VOA News

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