Israel’s Gaza offensive enters second day, 271 killed (Third lead)

December 28th, 2008 - 4:01 pm ICT by IANS  

Gaza City (Palestine)/Tel Aviv, Dec 28 (DPA) Israeli aircraft pounded the Gaza Strip for the second day Sunday, hitting a Hamas headquarters in Gaza City, witnesses said, and bringing to 22 the number of attacks launched against the Islamist movement since Saturday.The toll in the Israeli raids stood at 271 by mid-morning Sunday, the majority believed to be militants. At least 900 people were reported to be wounded, some 120 of them seriously.

Israel opened its air offensive against Hamas positions in the Strip late Saturday morning, in response to the more than 200 rockets and mortars Hamas and other militant groups have launched at the Jewish state since the end of a truce Dec 19.

Israeli officials, from Prime Minister Ehud Olmert down, said Saturday that “Operation Cast Lead” was not limited by time and was designed to bring about an end to the rocket fire from the Gaza Strip.

The United States Saturday urged Israel restraint in its military operations in the Gaza Strip, but simultaneously offered sharp criticism of Hamas, the organization effectively governing the salient.

White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said Israel needs to avoid civilian deaths in its operations against Hamas. But, in the same statement, Johndroe also lambasted Hamas for its attacks on Israel and its support for terrorism.

Meanwhile, the White House said US President George W. Bush, who is at his ranch in Crawford, Texas, for Christmas vacation, has discussed the Middle East situation with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and received briefing on the Israeli air strikes from his national security adviser Stephen Hadley.

The president also talked over the phone to Saudi King Abdullah on the Middle East, said Johndroe without providing further information.

Bush, however, was not expected to make a public statement on the Israeli operations.

US president-elect Barack Obama, who is in Hawaii for his holiday, is also “closely monitoring the Gaza situation”, said his spokesperson on national security Brooke Anderson.

Rice called for an immediate restoration of the Dec 19 ceasefire.

“We strongly condemn the repeated rocket and mortar attacks against Israel and hold Hamas responsible for breaking the ceasefire and for the renewal of violence there,” Rice said in a statement.

Witnesses said the warplanes destroyed the main road of Sallah el-Dein in the northern Gaza Strip that leads to the towns of Beit Hanoun, Beit Lahia and Jabalia. There were, however, no immediate reports of casualties.

Hamas officials in Gaza said that an air-to-ground rocket destroyed a metal workshop in the northern Gaza City. Israel said the facility was used to manufacture crude rockets.

the warplanes also bombed a building of a Hamas affiliated social organisation in the Gaza City.

Mo’aweya Hassanein, chief of emergency and ambulance services of the Palestine health ministry said that at least 225 people were killed and around 750 others wounded in the air strikes.

Israel said the intensive airstrike was the first stage of a large-scale military operation against the Hamas movement in the Gaza Strip.

Hamas spokesman in Gaza, Fawzi Barhoum, said in a statement that the Islamic movement “will not surrender”, adding that, “the Palestinian people and Hamas movement “would keep their resistance against the Zionist enemy (Israel)”.

Earlier at a joint press conference with Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Defence Minister Ehud Barak, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said that the army will continue to operate in Gaza, as the efforts to bring back normalcy in southern Israel, the target of Hamas’ rocket attacks, would take time.

“We are not eager for a fight, but we will not back down from it,” Olmert said, adding that, “Israel has done all it could to preserve the ceasefire with Hamas, but our desire for peace was met with terror.”

The prime minister tried to ease the humanitarian concerns of the international community, saying that Israel will do whatever it can to prevent a humanitarian disaster in the impoverished area.

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