New York Times..
GAZA — Israeli airstrikes against Hamas facilities in Gaza continued for a second day on Sunday and the death toll rose to more than 280 as Israel retaliated for rocket fire from the area with its most severe campaign against Palestinian militants in decades.
The Palestinian groups again launched barrages of rockets and mortars into Israel on Sunday, extending their reach further than ever before, and the Israeli government approved the emergency call up of thousands of army reservists in preparation for a possible ground operation.
Speaking before the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said the army “will deepen and broaden its actions as needed” and “will continue to act in Gaza.”
Among the 30 or more targets hit Saturday night and early Sunday was the main security compound and prison in Gaza City known as the Saraya; metal workshops throughout Gaza; Hamas military posts; and the house of a chemistry professor from Gaza’s Islamic University. The Hamas-owned Al-Aqsa television station was also struck, as was a mosque that the Israeli military said was housing armed men and was being used as a terrorist operation center.
Palestinian officials said that most of the dead in Gaza were security officers for Hamas, including two senior commanders, and that at least 600 people had been wounded in the attacks.
The prime minister of Israel, Ehud Olmert, said on Sunday that “the patience, determination and stamina” of the residents of Israelis would, in the end, determine the success of the military and diplomatic campaign against Hamas.
Two rockets fell in the vicinity of the major Israeli port city of Ashdod, almost 25 miles north of Gaza, a military spokeswoman said. Others landed in the coastal city of Ashkelon. Several Israelis were lightly wounded by shrapnel. The hundreds of thousands of Israeli citizens now within rocket range have been instructed by the authorities to stay close to protected spaces and an emergency has been declared.
Israeli military officials said that the airstrikes, which began on Saturday morning, were the start of what could be days or even months of an effort to force Hamas to end its rocket barrages into southern Israel.
After the initial airstrikes, dozens of rockets were fired into southern Israel sending thousands of Israelis into bomb shelters. One man was killed on Saturday in the town of Netivot, the first death from rocket fire since it intensified a week ago.
A number of governments and international officials, including leaders of Russia, Egypt, the European Union and the United Nations, condemned Israel’s use of force and also called on Hamas to end the rocket fire. But in strong terms, the Bush administration blamed Hamas for the violence and demanded that it stop firing rockets.
Early Sunday morning in New York, the United Nations Security Council issued a statement expressing concern about the escalation of the conflict and calling on both parties for an immediate end to all violence. The statement came after envoys of the 15-member council met for over four hours in a closed session, Reuters reported.
A military operation had been forecast and demanded by Israeli officials for weeks, ever since a rocky cease-fire between Israel and Hamas fully collapsed a week ago, leading again to rocket attacks in large numbers against Israel and isolated Israeli operations here.
Still, there was a shocking quality to Saturday’s attacks, which began in broad daylight as police cadets were graduating, women were shopping at the outdoor market, and children were emerging from school.
The center of Gaza City was a scene of chaotic horror, with rubble everywhere, sirens wailing, and women shrieking as dozens of mutilated bodies were laid out on the pavement and in the lobby of Shifa Hospital so that family members could identify them. The dead included civilians, including several construction workers and at least two children in school uniforms.
By afternoon, shops were shuttered, funerals began and mourning tents were visible on nearly every major street of this densely populated city.
The leader of the Hamas government in Gaza, Ismail Haniya, said in a statement that “Palestine has never witnessed an uglier massacre.” Later, in a televised speech, he vowed to fight Israel. “We say in all confidence that even if we are hung on the gallows or they make our blood flow in the streets or they tear our bodies apart, we will bow only before God and we will not abandon Palestine,” he said.
In Damascus, Syria, Hamas’s supreme leader, Khaled Meshal, said in an interview with Al Jazeera television that he was calling for a new Palestinian intifada against Israel, including the resumption of suicide attacks within Israel for the first time since 2005. Hamas, he said, had accepted “all the peaceful options, but without results.”