Hamas vowed on Wednesday to fight "until the last breath" if Israel makes good on threats to send ground troops into Gaza after rejecting calls for a truce and pressing on with its air assault.
"We in Hamas are ready for all scenarios and we will fight until the last breath," senior official Mushir al-Masri told AFP as warplanes pounded Gaza for a fifth day and the enclave’s Islamist rulers hit back with rockets.
"Israel will embark on a veritable adventure if it decides to invade Gaza. We have prepared surprises for them," he vowed.
The Israeli security cabinet earlier rejected international proposals for a truce in its offensive on Hamas in Gaza, a senior government official said.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said after a meeting of his security cabinet that the current conditions were not right for a Gaza ceasefire but he did not rule one out in the future.
"If conditions will ripen, and we think there can be a diplomatic solution that will ensure a better security reality in the south, we will consider it. But at the moment, it’s not there," Olmert was quoted by an aide as saying.
"The government decided to adopt a success strategy. The government wants to reach the goals of halting terror from Gaza. Once we reach this goal we will be ready to discuss the possibility of a ceasefire."
Quoting Olmert, he added: "We did not launch the Gaza operation only to end it with the same rocket firing that we had at its start."
Following the Israeli rejection of the truce, Hamas said it was prepared to study proposals for a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip that would require Israel to halt attacks and lift "entirely" its blockade of the Gaza Strip.
"Once we receive a proposal, we will study it," said Hamas official Ayman Taha. "We are for any initiative that will bring an immediate cessation to the aggression and lift the siege entirely."
Protests earlier mushroomed around the globe and world’s top diplomats scrambled to find a way to stop one of Israel’s deadliest-ever offensives on Gaza that has so far killed at least 390 Palestinians, including 42 children, and wounded more than 2,000 others, according to Gaza medics.
On the ground, Israeli jets continued to hammer Hamas targets throughout Gaza, carrying out more than 35 strikes overnight targeting government offices, weapon storage facilities and contraband tunnels, the army said.
The massive Israeli assault has left many Hamas structures and bases in rubble and has killed several senior officials of the Islamist group.
But it has failed to stop the rocket fire. Since late Tuesday, Hamas’s armed wing sent five rockets slamming around the desert town of Beersheva some 40 kilometers (24 miles) from the Gaza border — the deepest its projectiles have reached into Israel yet.
Since the start of the Israeli offensive, Gaza militants have fired more than 250 rockets into Israel, killing three civilians and one soldier and wounding several dozen people.
Hamas has remained defiant in the face of the Israeli onslaught, vowing to reach ever-deeper into Israel with its rockets.
The group has also threatened to carry out suicide attacks inside Israel for the first time since January 2005.
World leaders have expressed serious concern about the humanitarian situation in Gaza
As anger over the offensive spiraled in the Muslim world, diplomatic efforts have gathered pace.
U.S. President George W. Bush spoke with Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas to discuss a "sustainable ceasefire."
The European Union separately called for a "permanent" ceasefire in and around the Gaza Strip, while the Middle East Quartet called for "an immediate ceasefire that would be fully respected."
World leaders have expressed serious concern about the humanitarian situation in Gaza, a tiny, aid-dependent territory of 1.5 million which Israel has virtually sealed off since Hamas seized power in June 2007.
Israel opened one of its crossings into Gaza again on Wednesday, allowing more than a 100 truckloads of goods to pass, the army said. At total of 179 truckloads and 10 ambulances have been delivered since the start of the Gaza bombardment, it said.
Running Low on Food and Power
In Gaza, basic food supplies were running low and power cuts were affecting much of the territory. Hospitals lacked at least 80 essential medicines as well as scores of instruments, Health Ministry official Muawiyah Hassanein said.
EU foreign ministers called late on Tuesday for an immediate and lasting truce and for humanitarian aid to be let into Gaza.
The EU said it would work with other members of the Quartet, and send a delegation of ministers to the region shortly.
Turkey, Egypt and several other Arab governments are also pursuing their own initiative calling for a ceasefire and reopening of Gaza’s crossings with Israel, diplomats said.
Olmert’s spokesman Mark Regev said Israel supported the idea of letting aid into Gaza.
"We want to see convoy after convoy of humanitarian support and we are willing to work closely with all relevant international parties to facilitate that goal," he said.
"At the same time, it is important to keep the pressure up on Hamas, not give them a respite, time to regroup and reorganize."
About 1.5 million Palestinians live in Gaza, which has one of the highest population densities and growth rates in the world. Most Gazans live on less than $2 a day and up to 80 percent are dependent on food aid, according to aid groups.
(Alarabiya.net and Agencies)