Israel is expanding a military offensive in Gaza as the Palestinian death toll continues to climb. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has suspended Mideast peace talks to protest Israel's military offensive in the Gaza Strip. Israel has rejected international criticism, as we hear from Robert Berger at the VOA bureau in Jerusalem.

Israeli aircraft fired missiles at the office of Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh in Gaza City, escalating an offensive aimed at halting Palestinian rocket attacks. Mr. Haniyeh was not there.

Israel says the attack is a message that it is now targeting the political leaders of Hamas, the Islamic militant group that rules Gaza. Hamas refuses to renounce violence or recognize Israel.

Mr. Haniyeh's office was one of many targets attacked by Israeli aircraft and ground troops on Sunday. Palestinian militants responded by firing more rockets into Israel.

Palestinian medics say Israeli air and ground raids in Gaza killed at least six Palestinians Sunday, including a 21-month old girl.

The Israeli offensive took a bloody toll on Saturday. At least 54 Palestinians were killed, about half of them militants and the rest civilians. Two Israeli soldiers were also killed. It was the highest single-day death toll since the Palestinian uprising erupted in 2000.

In New York, the United Nations Security Council issued a statement urging Israelis and Palestinians "to immediately cease all acts of violence." U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned the rocket attacks, but accused Israel of an "excessive use of force."

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert brushed off the criticism at the weekly Cabinet meeting in Jerusalem.

"Nothing will prevent us from striking at the terrorist organizations responsible for rocket attacks," Mr. Olmert said. "He said that no one has the moral right to preach to Israel for exercising its legitimate right of self-defense."

Responding to the bloodshed, the internationally-backed Palestinian government in the West Bank suspended peace talks with Israel.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas described the Israeli actions in Gaza as a "holocaust." Mr. Abbas has suspended Mideast peace talks in protest at Israel's military offensive against Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will try to rescue the peace process when she arrives here later this week.