AFP - Muslim nations on Monday condemned Israel over the deadly air attacks on the Gaza Strip, as European diplomats called for an urgent meeting on the crisis which sparked anti-Israeli protests around Europe.
EU foreign ministers will meet in Paris Tuesday to "look into how the European Union can help ease the current crisis, along with the efforts of the international community, especially the secretary general of the United Nations," a French foreign ministry statement said.
As the death toll in Gaza from Israel's offensive against the Islamist Hamas-controlled territory exceeded 300, efforts to hold talks between Syria and Israel were suspended.
Rebuffing Arab appeals, the United States demanded that Hamas agree to a "sustainable and durable ceasefire" and gave its support to Israel's attacks.
"In order for the violence to stop, Hamas must stop firing rockets into Israel and agree to respect a sustainable and durable ceasefire," said White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe.
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called key world leaders and diplomats, including UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana as well as counterparts from Britain to Saudi Arabia to help restore a ceasefire, officials said.
Jordan's King Abdullah II urged US President George W. Bush to help end Israel's air blitz, the palace said.
"Effective international efforts must be launched to stop the Israeli aggression on Gaza and end the suffering of the Palestinians," the king told Bush over the telephone, according to a palace statement.
Other Muslim countries including Indonesia, Afghanistan, Malaysia and Pakistan joined in condemning Israel.
Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said it was ironic that the raids occurred as people entered the Islamic new year and days before the new year of 2009.
"We should pray that the earth will be more peaceful, but we've been torn by the situation in Palestine and Gaza," Yudhoyono told reporters.
Meanwhile, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown urged Israel and Palestinian leaders to let urgent medical aid into Gaza, to provide a "humanitarian breathing space" amid the fighting, his spokesman said.
"We are appalled by the continuing violence in Gaza and reiterate our call to Israel and Hamas for an immediate ceasefire to prevent further loss of innocent life," said a spokesman for Brown.
The special UN envoy to the Middle East, Robert Serry, and the head of the UN Relief and Works Agency, Karen Abu Zayd, meanwhile protested strongly to Israel after air strikes hit two UN buildings and killed eight of its people.
Ban urged world leaders, especially those from Arab nations, to work urgently to end the violence.
"Arab foreign ministers are going to meet soon in emergency session. I urge them to act swiftly and decisively to bring an early end to this impasse," he said.
David Axelrod, a top aide Barack Obama, told CBS television the US president-elect was committed to achieving peace in the Middle East.
In London, protesters briefly scuffled with police outside the Israeli embassy on Monday in a new protest a day after 10 people were arrested at a similar rally, an AFP correspondent on the scene reported.
At one point an Israeli flag was burned in the crowd, while other placards read "Stop the Holocaust in Gaza" and "End the siege on Gaza". A police spokeswoman estimated the crowd at some 600 demonstrators.
In Athens, riot police fired tear gas to keep protesters away from the Israeli embassy and reportedly arrested three people after a scuffle broke out inside the embassy grounds around the Israeli flag, which was dragged down from its mast, the semi-state Athens News Agency said.
The protesters, who included Palestinians, burned Israeli and US flags and threw stones at riot police guarding the embassy. Some beat shoes against photographs of US President George W Bush, an AFP photographer said.
"The Greek police did its job very well," an Israeli embassy source told AFP, declining to give any details on the incident.
Protests were also held throughout Europe from Geneva to Stockholm to Warsaw, Paris and Barcelona.
In the Mideast, thousands of Iranians, joined by high-ranking officials and military commanders, demonstrated in Tehran, many carrying banners reading "Israel must be wiped off the face of the earth" and "We should all rise and destroy Israel."
A student group said it was recruiting volunteers to fight Israel in response to a decree issued by Iran's supreme religious leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Sunday stating that anyone who died in the defence of Gaza would be deemed a martyr.
Tehran is a staunch supporter of Hamas but rejects allegations that it supplies arms to the movement.
Saudi Arabia sent two hospital aircraft with medical personnel to Gaza to help the injured and to evacuate the severely wounded to its hospitals.