Israel Pushes Gaza Offensive as Death Toll Tops 300



Israeli aircraft and warships bombarded Palestinian targets again Monday - the third day of an offensive against Hamas and its infrastructure in the Gaza Strip.  More than 300 Palestinians have been reported killed and hundreds more injured.  Two Israelis have also been killed since the offensive began on Saturday.  

For the third day in a row, Israeli warplanes swooped over Gaza, hitting targets associated with the de-facto government, the militant group Hamas.  Among the targets have been the interior ministry, intelligence headquarters and underground tunnels between Gaza and neighboring Egypt.

Palestinian medical officials have put the death toll at over 300 with more than 700 injured. United Nations aid officials say at least 57 civilians are among the dead.  Two Israelis have been killed since Saturday by rockets fired by Palestinian militants from Gaza into Israel.

Israel said it had no choice but to launch an offensive against Hamas to stop such rocket attacks.

Speaking before a special session of the Israeli parliament Monday, Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Israel faces an "all-out war" against Hamas.  He said the military operation is complicated but has been well prepared.

Barak said the operation will expand and deepen as needed, adding - "we know what the goal is and we pursue it with determination."

A spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said operations will continue until the people of southern Israel no longer live in fear of Palestinian rocket attacks.

The militant Islamist group Hamas wrested control of Gaza away from the more moderate mainstream Fatah faction of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas over a year ago.  There have been sporadic rocket attacks into Israel but these increased after a six-month cease-fire between Israel and Hamas expired December 19.

Speaking in the West Bank city of Ramallah, President Abbas said he would consult with rival factions to try to end the bloodshed.

President Abbas said he would invite all Palestinian factions, including Hamas and Islamic Jihad for consultations to stop what he called the aggression against the Palestinian people.

Israel has declared areas around the Gaza Strip a closed military area. Troops and tanks have massed along the border and some sort of ground offensive or ground incursions into Gaza are considered a likely next step.

Hamas has continued rocket barrages into Israel and a Hamas spokesman called on Palestinian groups to use what he termed, all available means against Israel, including martyrdom - a common reference to suicide attacks.

A small number of wounded Palestinians has crossed from Gaza into Egypt and some medical supplies have come in from Egypt via the Rafah border crossing.

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