Middle East Fight Escalates in Gaza

Violence in the Middle East showed no signs of stopping Sunday as the exchange of rocket and mortar fire between Israel and Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip continued Sunday for a second day.

Israel widened air attacks against Gaza's Hamas rulers Sunday, pounding weapons smuggling tunnels and a central prison, sending more tanks and artillery toward the Gaza border and approving a reserves callup for a possible ground invasion.

Israel's foreign minister would not reveal whether her country would be launching such an offensive.

“The only way to change reality is to give Hamas the clear message by Israel ... that they are responsible for the situation,” Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni told FOX News Sunday, adding that, "all the options are open and the last thing I am going to do is to tell Hamas through the press what we are going to do the next day."

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Hamas leaders were forced into hiding, most of the dead were from the Hamas security forces, and Israel's military intelligence chief said Hamas' ability to fire rockets had been reduced by 50 percent. Hamas rockets fire dropped off sharply, from more than 130 on Saturday to just over 20 on Sunday.

Israel's intense bombings — some 300 air strikes since midday Saturday — wreaked unprecedented destruction in Gaza, reducing entire buildings to rubble.

Gaza sources told FOX News that 225 people had been killed in the attacks, while the Associated Press reported the death toll had risen to 290 Sunday, with more than 800 wounded. Most of the dead were Hamas police, but the airstrikes also claimed the lives of civilians, including a 15-year-old boy killed Saturday inside a greenhouse.

The Palestinian Center for Human Rights, which keeps researchers at all hospitals, said it had counted 251 dead by midday Sunday, and that among them were 20 children under the age of 16 and nine women.

Late Sunday, Israeli aircraft attacked a building in the Jebaliya refugee camp next to Gaza City, killing a 14-month-old baby, Gaza Health Ministry official Dr. Moaiya Hassanain said. Early Monday, Israeli aircraft bombed the Islamic University and government compound in Gaza City, centers of Hamas power. Witnesses saw fire and smoke at the university, counting six separate airstrikes there just after midnight.

Palestinians breached the border fence with Egypt and hundreds poured across the frontier, prompting Egyptian guards to open fire, said officials and witnesses on both sides.

Militants in Gaza, meanwhile, fired dozens of rockets and mortars into Israel on Sunday. Two rockets struck close to the largest city in southern Israel, Ashdod, some 23 miles from Gaza, reaching deeper into Israel than ever before. The targeting of Ashdod confirmed Israel's concern that militants are capable of putting major cities within rocket range. No serious injuries were reported in any of the attacks Sunday. One Israeli died in a rocket attack Saturday.

Israel's prime minister said the campaign could last longer than initially anticipated and the Israeli Cabinet approved the callup of 6,500 reservists at its weekly meeting Sunday. Infantry and armored units were already headed to the Gaza border for a possible ground invasion.

The Palestinians' moderate President Mahmoud Abbas, a fierce rival of Hamas, urged the Islamic militant group to renew a truce with Israel that collapsed last week.

In New York, the U.N. Security Council expressed serious concern about the escalating situation in Gaza and called on Israel and the Palestinians to immediately halt all violence and military activities. The U.N.'s most powerful body called for a new cease-fire between Israel and Hamas and for opening border crossings into Gaza to enable humanitarian supplies to reach the territory.

According to an aide on Obama's transition team, the president-elect, who is in Hawaii, continues to closely monitor global events, including the situation in Gaza. He had an intelligence briefing Sunday and plans to talk with his incoming national security adviser, Gen. James Jones, and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, his nominee for secretary of state.

The aide said Obama appreciates the information the Bush administration is sharing with him.

The aide requested anonymity because the Obama team is refraining from comment, saying the U.S. has only one president at a time.

Meanwhile, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak allowed limited supplies of fuel and medicine to enter Gaza.

Many of Israel's Western allies urged restraint on both sides, though the U.S. blamed Hamas for the fighting.

Barak told FOX News his country "cannot really accept" a ceasefire with Hamas.

"For us to be asked to have a ceasefire with Hamas is like asking you to have a ceasefire with Al Qaeda," said Barak, in the televised interview Saturday afternoon." It's something we cannot really accept."

U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, Israel's closest ally on the Security Council, said "the key issue here was not to point a finger at Israel. The key issue was to urge all parties to end the violence and address the humanitarian needs of the people of Gaza."

Israel's U.N. Ambassador Gabriela Shalev said that in the face of constant rocket attacks, Israel had "no choice but to go on a military operation and the only party to blame is the Hamas."

The carnage inflamed Arab and Muslim public opinion, setting off street protests across the West Bank, in an Arab community in Israel, in several Middle Eastern cities and in Paris.

Some of the protests turned violent. Israeli troops quelling a West Bank march killed one Palestinian and seriously wounded another. A crowd of anti-Israel protesters in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul became a target for a homicide bomber on a bicycle. In Lebanon, police fired tear gas to stop demonstrators from reaching the Egyptian Embassy.

Egypt, which has served as a mediator between Israel and the Palestinians as well as between Hamas and its rival Fatah, has been criticized for joining Israel in closing its borders with Gaza. The blockade was imposed immediately after the Hamas takeover in June 2007.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit called on Hamas to renew its truce with Israel. The cease-fire had begun unraveling last month, and formally ended more than a week ago. Since then, Gaza militants have stepped up rocket fire on Israel, prompting Israel's offensive.

A Hamas leader in exile, Osama Hamdan, said the movement would not relent.

"We have one alternative which is to be steadfast and resist and then we will be victorious," Hamdan said in Beirut.

Olmert said it was unclear when the operation would end. The situation in southern Israel "is liable to last longer than we are able to foresee at this time," he told his Cabinet.

The offensive began eight days after a six-month truce between Israel and the militants expired. The Israeli army says Palestinian militants have fired more than 300 rockets and mortars at Israeli targets over the past week and 10 times that number over the past year.

Streets were empty in Gaza City on Sunday as most residents stayed home, fearing more airstrikes. A few lined up to buy bread outside two bakeries. Schools were shut for a three-day mourning period the Gaza government declared Saturday for the campaign's dead.

Hamas police kept a low profile, wearing jackets over their dark blue uniforms and walking close to walls, hoping to evade the detection by Israeli pilots.

Aircraft struck one of Hamas' main security compounds in Gaza City — a major symbol of the group's authority. Health officials said four people were killed and 25 wounded in the attack.

A column of black smoke towered from the building and some inmates of the compound's prison fled after the missiles struck. Hamas police nabbed some of them.

One prisoner trapped under the rubble waved his hand in the hope of being rescued. Two other prisoners helped a bleeding friend walk through the debris.

Minutes after the strike, Hamas police defiantly planted the movement's green flag in the rubble.

"These strikes fuel our popular support, our military power and the firmness of our positions," said Mushir al-Masri, a Hamas legislator. "We will survive, we will move forward, we will not surrender, we will not be shaken."

Senior Hamas leaders went into hiding before the offensive began, shutting off their phones. Hamas' Gaza prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh, spoke on a televised address on Saturday evening but it was not immediately clear where the address was taped.

Earlier, Palestinians said Israeli bombs destroyed a mosque outside Gaza's main hospital in Gaza City; the military called it a "base for terrorist activities."

In southern Gaza, aircraft targeted a Gaza tanker truck, touching off a blaze that raged out of control and spread to about a dozen nearby houses. One of the main medicine warehouses supplying local pharmacies in southern Gaza was attacked in another sortie.

Local residents said the tanker and the warehouse contained supplies that had been smuggled in from Gaza through underground tunnels with Egypt, suggesting Israel was widening its offensive to go after businesses that are a source of income for Hamas.

Warplanes attacked the headquarters of the local Hamas television station early Sunday, but it continued to broadcast from a mobile unit.

The initial waves of attacks Saturday focused on key Hamas security installations and rocket-launching pads.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said it was unclear when the operation would end. The situation in southern Israel "is liable to last longer than we are able to foresee at this time," he told his Cabinet.

Israel's Cabinet Secretary Ovad Yehezkel quoted Olmert as telling the Cabinet the fighting in Gaza would be "long, painful and difficult." Olmert told the ministers Israel would have to withstand international pressure.

Benayahu said Israel's objective was not to halt all rocket attacks but to cripple militants' intention and motivation to assault Israel. "To change the situation, we don't have to go after the last of the rocket launchers," Benayahu told Army Radio.

The rockets that struck close to Ashdod, extending the militants' reach closer to Israel's heartland, landed some 23 miles from Gaza. Gaza's Hamas rulers have been stockpiling weapons in recent months, including medium-range missiles. Until Sunday, the deepest targets inside Israel had been the city of Ashkelon and the town of Netivot, which are about 12 miles from Gaza.

Since the campaign began, around 150 rockets and mortars have bombarded southern Israel, according to the military's count.

In Ashkelon, a city of 120,000 people about 11 miles from Gaza, bustling sidewalks immediately emptied after a rocket fell downtown. "I am afraid to walk," said Tzipi Moshe, 59, nervously puffing a cigarette as she ran into a building for cover.

The Palestine Liberation Organization, dominated by Abbas' Fatah movement, called a one-day commercial strike through the West Bank and urged Palestinians to take to the streets in peaceful protests.

Israel's military was on alert for possible disturbances in the West Bank. The campaign has inflamed public opinion across the Arab world, which has responded with protests and condemnations.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.