Mahmud Hams/AFP/Getty Images
A Palestinian boy stands in front of a destroyed building as smoke rises from the ruin.
A Palestinian boy stands in front of a destroyed building as smoke rises from the ruin. Mahmud Hams/AFP/Getty Images
Alon Tuval/ATP Media
An Israeli policeman looks through a hole in the side of an apartment building after a Palestinian rocket attack in Netivot, southern Israel, on Saturday. One Israeli was killed and several others were wounded.
An Israeli policeman looks through a hole in the side of an apartment building after a Palestinian rocket attack in Netivot, southern Israel, on Saturday. One Israeli was killed and several others were wounded. Alon Tuval/ATP Media
Leaders in Washington and capitals across the globe called for a cease-fire Saturday in response to escalating violence in the Gaza Strip. Officials there say more than 200 people have been killed as Israeli fighter jets bombed Hamas-controlled police and security compounds. Hundreds more were wounded.
It's the single deadliest day in Gaza fighting in years.
Israel said the attacks were aimed at halting rocket attacks from Gaza that have continued after last week's six-month-old cease-fire expired. Since then, Hamas and other factions have launched nearly 200 rockets and mortar rounds at Israel. Both sides blame the other for the cease-fire's collapse.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice issued a statement Saturday condemning Hamas attacks on Israel, but she also called for a restoration of the cease-fire and for recognition of what she called "the urgent humanitarian needs of the innocent people of Gaza."
The statement represented a shift by the administration. Earlier Saturday, White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe urged Israel to "avoid civilian casualties as it targets Hamas in Gaza."
With Rice's remarks, the U.S. added its voice to leaders of the European Union and Russia in calling for a cease-fire.
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, the Vatican, the U.N. secretary-general and special Mideast envoy Tony Blair all called for an immediate restoration of calm.
Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told reporters the army was prepared for a wider attack. It's not clear, however, whether Israel is ready to use ground troops in what would likely be a bloody and hard fight in densely populated Gaza.
Captain Elie Isaacson with the Israel Defense Forces said the operation is aimed at reducing Hamas' ability to fire rockets at Israel.
Asked whether Hamas political leaders might be targeted, Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni declared at a news conference: "Hamas is a terrorist organization and nobody is immune."
The Arab League has delayed until Wednesday a meeting of Arab foreign ministers called to take a common position on the raids. Earlier on Saturday Arab League officials said the ministerial meeting would take place on Sunday evening.
Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa told reporters the meeting was postponed because many ministers were busy in separate meetings of two Arab regional groups — the Gulf Cooperation Council and the Maghreb Union.
Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other militant factions in Gaza vowed a strong response to the air strikes, including suicide bombings.
The strikes prompted angry demonstrations around the Arab world, with protests occurring in Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and elsewhere.
The most violent West Bank response came in the city of Hebron, where dozens of youths, many of them masked, hurled rocks for hours at Israeli forces, who lobbed tear gas and stun grenades in response. Officials in Bethlehem, Jesus' traditional birthplace, turned off Christmas lights and traders shuttered shops to protest the Israeli attack.
Israel left Gaza in 2005 after a 38-year occupation, but the withdrawal did not lead to better relations with Palestinians in the territory as Israeli officials had hoped.
Instead, the evacuation was followed by a sharp rise in militant attacks on Israeli border communities that on several occasions provoked harsh Israeli military reprisals.
With reporting from NPR's Peter Kenyon and David Folkenflik. Wire reports also contributed to this story.