World leaders have called for an immediate end to violence in the Gaza Strip, condemning the Israeli bombardments in the region as well as the ensuing launch of rockets into Israel.
AFP - World powers called for an immediate end to violence after massive Israeli air strikes on Gaza Saturday and rocket attacks by Palestinian militants, but the US said it "holds Hamas responsible."
While the European Union, Russia and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged both sides to stop the violence, Israel's strongest ally pinned the blame on the Islamist group Hamas which controls the Gaza Strip for breaking the ceasefire, which expired on December 19.
"The United States strongly condemns the repeated rocket and mortar attacks against Israel and holds Hamas responsible for breaking the ceasefire and for the renewal of violence in Gaza," outgoing US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said in a statement.
More than 200 Palestinians have been killed, according to the head of Gaza emergency services.
In the Middle East, the Arab League singled out Israel for blame, and the Organisation of the Islamic Conference accused it of a "war crime" for not protecting the lives of civilians.
Middle East envoy Tony Blair deplored the "tragic of loss of life," and urged a "new strategy for Gaza, which brings that territory back under the legitimate rule of the Palestinian Authority in a manner which ends their suffering and fully protects the security of Israel."
In Paris, French President Nicolas Sarkozy said he "strongly condemns the irresponsible provocations which led to this situation as well as the disproportionate use of force."
EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana meanwhile said the Israeli strikes were "inflicting an unacceptable toll on Palestinian civilians and will only worsen the humanitarian crisis as well as complicate the search for a peaceful solution."
The EU also called for all crossing points out of Gaza to be reopened and deliveries of aid and fuel to resume, along with free access for international humanitarian groups, journalists and diplomats, which Israel has blocked.
While Ban expressed his alarm at the "bloodshed," Hamas said Saturday it had retaliated with more rockets which Israeli medics said killed at least one person in the southern town of Netivot.
Demonstrations condemning Israel's strikes on Hamas targets took place from Istanbul to Paris and in the Moroccan capital, Rabat.
Russia's foreign ministry called on Israel "to halt immediately the large-scale acts of force against the Gaza Strip" while German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier told Hamas to "immediately and definitively end its unacceptable rocket attacks against Israel," according to Sunday newspaper Bild am Sonntag.
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said he was "deeply concerned" about the situation in Gaza, adding he understood "the Israel government's sense of obligation to its population."
In the region, Amr Mussa, secretary general of the Cairo-based Arab League, called for an emergency meeting on Sunday of foreign ministers of Arab countries.
Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi called for "urgent action" during a telephone conversation with Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, state news agency TAP reported.
In Baghdad, the Iraqi government said it would take part in the Arab League meeting and condemned the Israeli strikes for leaving behind "many victims -- innocent people and children."
Saudi King Abdullah telephoned US President George W. Bush, a White House spokesman said, while declining to give details.
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said in a statement that "Egypt condemns the Israeli military aggression on the Gaza Strip and blames Israel, as an occupying force, for the victims and the wounded."
He ordered the Rafah crossing point between Egypt and Gaza to be opened for wounded Palestinians to be evacuated "so they can receive the necessary treatment in Egyptian hospitals."
In Amman the royal palace said King Abdullah of Jordan had been in touch with Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas and with Mubarak to "launch an Arab and international initiative aimed at ending the Israeli aggression."
From Turkey, a Muslim country that has been an ally of Israel in the region, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the Israeli military operation was a mark of "disrespect" for Ankara's efforts to negotiate peace for Israel with its longtime foe Syria.
Syria in turn condemned "the barbaric Israeli aggression against the Palestinian people in Gaza," the foreign ministry said.
Date created : 2008-12-27