Israel kills 229 in air strikes on Gaza Strip
Israeli warplanes pounded the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip Saturday, killing at least 229 people in one of the bloodiest days for the Palestinians in 60 years of conflict with the Jewish state, Reuters reported.
Hamas vowed revenge including suicide bomb attacks in the "cafes and streets" of Israel, as Israeli air strikes continued late into the night. Israel said the offensive would continue as long as necessary and that it may also involve land forces.
Israel said the strikes were in response to almost daily "intolerable" rocket and mortar fire by Gaza militants, which intensified after Hamas ended a six-month cease-fire a week ago.
The rockets caused few injuries, but Israeli leaders were under pressure to stop these attacks ahead of a February 10 election which opinion polls show the right-wing opposition Likud party may win. Saturday, one Israeli man was killed by a rocket fired after the Israeli strikes began.
"There is a time for calm and a time for fighting, and now the time has come to fight," Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak said in a televised statement. He later ruled out any new truce with Hamas.
Outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert warned that "it may take time, and each and every one of us must be patient so we can complete the mission."
Israel Radio said Israeli infantry and armoured forces had been reinforced along the border with Gaza after the attacks.
Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said "Palestine has never seen an uglier massacre" and in Damascus, Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal called for a new Palestinian peoples' uprising against Israel.
"We will not leave our land, we will not raise white flags and we will not kneel except before God," Haniyeh said.
Black smoke billowed over Gaza City, where the dead and wounded lay on the ground after Israel bombed more than 40 security compounds, including two where Hamas was hosting graduation ceremonies for new recruits.