Israel bombs Gaza in 'all-out war' on Hamas
GAZA CITY (AFP) - Israel bombed Gaza for a third day on Monday in an "all-out war" on Hamas, as tanks massed on the border and the Islamists fired deadly rockets to retaliate for the blitz that has killed nearly 320.
Anger over the mammoth bombing campaign spiralled in the Muslim world as UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon once again deplored the violence, and efforts to hold talks between Syria and Israel were suspended as a result of the bombardment.
With Israeli tanks idling along the border of the battered Palestinian enclave , the army declared the area a closed military zone -- a move that in the past has often been followed by ground operations.
Defence Minister Ehud Barak, who has warned of a possible ground offensive, declared that the Jewish state was in "an all-out war with Hamas and its proxies."
"We will avoid as much as possible hitting civilians while the people of Hamas and other terrorists deliberately hide and operate within the civilian population," he told a parliamentary session.
At least 51 civilians, including children, have died as a result of the Israeli bombardment, a spokesman for the UN Palestinian refugee agency said.
Among the latest deaths were four girls from the same family, aged from one to 12 years old, who were killed in an air raid that targetted a mosque near their home, medics said.
In all, the Israeli blitz, unleashed on Saturday in retaliation for ongoing rocket and mortar fire from Gaza, has killed at least 312 Palestinians and wounded more than 1,400 others, according to Gaza medics.
Hamas militants remained defiant on Monday, firing nearly 40 rockets into Israel.
One of the projectiles slammed into a construction site in the southern city of Ashkelon some 13 kilometres (eight miles) north of the Gaza border, killing an Israeli Arab and wounding eight other people.
Amid mounting international concern over the humanitarian situation in aid-dependent territory of 1.5 million that Israel has kept virtually sealed since Hamas violently seized power there in June 2007, the Jewish state on Monday allowed the passage of basic supplies.
Some 80 truckloads of medicine and food were expected to pass through the Kerem Shalom crossing in Gaza's south, a military spokesman told AFP.
In another development, Turkey, one of Israel's leading allies in the Muslim world, announced that it was ending efforts to organise peace talks between Israel and Syria.
"The continuation of the talks under these conditions is naturally impossible," Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan told reporters after discussions with Egyptian counterpart Ahmed Abul Gheit.
"To make war on the Israeli-Palestinian track and at the same time make peace on the Israeli-Syrian track -- these two cannot go together," he said.
Parliament in Jordan -- one of two Arab countries to have signed a peace treaty with Israel -- demanded that the government " reconsider " relations with the Jewish state.
Hamas, the Islamist Palestinian movement branded a terror group by Israel and the West, has lashed out at the world for not doing enough to end the blitz.
Israel is "committing a holocaust as the whole world watches and doesn't lift a finger to stop it," Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhum told reporters.
The Islamists have warned they could resume suicide attacks against Israel for the first time since January 2005 to retaliate for the blitz.
Since the start of the Israeli onslaught on Saturday, Gaza militants have fired more than 250 rockets and mortars into the Jewish state, killing two people and wounding nearly two dozen more.
The Israeli offensive has sparked protests across the world, with demonstrations held in European capitals, Turkey, Egypt and Syria.
At a rally in Tehran on Monday, thousands shouted "Down with Israel" and "Down with the USA" as they carried banners reading "We should all rise and destroy Israel."
Israel unleashed "Operation Cast Lead" against Hamas in the middle of Saturday morning, with some 60 warplanes bombing more than 50 targets in just a few minutes.
The Israeli blitz came after days of spiralling violence since the expiry of the Gaza truce. It comes less than two months before snap parliamentary elections in Israel called for February 10.