The United Nations Security Council Sunday called for an immediate halt to all violence in the Gaza Strip, amid ongoing Israeli air strikes that have killed at least 270 people in Gaza since Saturday. The Israeli assault followed days of rocket and mortar attacks on Israel by militants in Gaza. VOA's Purnell Murdock reports.
After more than four hours of emergency consultations that began late Saturday night, the U.N. Security Council issued a statement Sunday that stressed the need for the restoration of a cease-fire between Israel and Gaza's Islamic Hamas rulers.
Croatian Ambassador Neven Jurica, the current rotating president of the council, urged both sides to end the violence, which he said "would open the way for finding a political solution to the problems existing in the context of the Palestinian-Israeli settlement."
Israeli warplanes and helicopters destroyed more than 40 of the militant group's security installations across Gaza on Saturday, including compounds hosting graduation ceremonies for new Hamas recruits.
The airstrikes continued Sunday with a mosque in Gaza city destroyed and two people killed. Israeli officials say the mosque was being used as a base for terrorist activities. Several other air strikes were heard across Gaza.
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak warned the operation against Hamas will expand as necessary. Hundreds of forces were being reinforced at the Gaza border for a possible ground invasion.
Hamas vowed to avenge the assault with rocket attacks and suicide bombings. Palestinian militants fired more than 50 rockets into southern Israel on Saturday, killing one person.
Ryad Mansour, the Palestinian observer to the United Nations, told reporters in New York Sunday the Security Council issued a clear statement demanding a cease-fire. He said an immediate cease-fire "means stopping this massive Israeli military machine from doing all these criminal things against the Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip."
Mansour warned that if Israel did not comply with the council's cease-fire call, Arab nations and their supporters would come back before the council to make Israel comply.
Israeli Ambassador Gabriela Shalev told reporters her country acted in self defense. She said, "Israel wants peace...and we are negotiating a peace, even in these days, with our Palestinian partners."
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said civilian casualties would be avoided in Gaza, and that Hamas is Israel's target. He also pledged to avert a humanitarian crisis.
Tensions between Israel and Hamas have escalated since a six-month cease-fire expired earlier this month. The Israeli raid follows days of rocket and mortar attacks on Israel by militants in Gaza.