While international condemnation for the Israeli onslaught poured in from across the globe, the US, Israel’s strategic ally, blamed the killing of more than 225 Palestinians on Hamas.
"The US strongly condemns the repeated rocket and mortar attacks against Israel and holds Hamas responsible for breaking the cease-fire and for the renewal of violence in Gaza," Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said in a statement.
"The cease-fire should be restored immediately," she said.
Some 60 Israeli warplanes and helicopters pounded the overcrowded territory of 1.5 million people, killing at least 225 people in the bloodiest one-day death toll in 60 years of Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Black smoke billowed over Gaza City, where the dead and wounded lay scattered on the ground after Israel bombed more than 40 security compounds, including two where graduation ceremonies were held for new recruits.
At the main Gaza City graduation ceremony, uniformed bodies lay in a pile and the wounded writhed in pain.
Some rescue workers beat their heads and shouted "God is greatest". One badly wounded man quietly recited verses from the Qur’an.
More than 700 Palestinians were wounded in all, medics said.
"These people (Hamas) are nothing but thugs, and so Israel is going to defend its people against terrorists like Hamas," White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said.
"If Hamas stops firing rockets into Israel, then Israel would not have a need for strikes in Gaza," Johndroe told reporters.
"What we’ve got to see is Hamas stop firing rockets into Israel."
The Bush administration has typically taken the position that Israel has the right to defend itself.
The US, Israel’s strongest ally, regards Hamas as a terrorist organization and has worked to isolate the group since it came to power after sweeping the Palestinian parliamentary election in January 2006.
More to Come
Emboldened Israel threatened to keep up deadly air strikes on Gaza Strip for "as long as necessary."
"The operation will go on and be intensified as long as necessary," Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said.
"The battle will be long and difficult, but the time has come to act and to fight," he said in a televised news conference.
"For months we have been preparing to hit hard at Hamas…This will not be easy and will take time."
But Ismail Haniya, the premier of the Gaza government, insisted the people of Gaza will not cave in to Israel’s deadly attacks.
"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 a televised speech.
"We will not stand down and we will not cave in even if (the Israelis) should eradicate the Gaza Strip or kill thousands of us."
Hamas supreme leader Khaled Meshaal called on the Palestinians to wage a new intifada against Israel.
"We called for a military intifada against the enemy. Resistance will continue through martyrdom missions," he said in an interview on Al-Jazeera television.
(IslamOnline.net and news agencies)