Israeli tanks massed at the Gaza border on Sunday as warplanes continued to pound the densely populated enclave and dozens of Palestinians stormed past police to cross into Egyptian territory in an attempt to flee the bombardment that has killed 290 and injured 800 in just two days.
Dozens of Israeli tanks and personnel carriers massed at several points near the border after Tel Aviv warned it could launch a ground offensive in addition to its massive air blitz.
The Islamist group Hamas responded to the ongoing bombardment by firing rockets the farthest yet into Israel, with one striking not far from Ashdod, Israel’s second-largest port, some 30 kilometers (18 miles) north of Gaza. It caused no casualties, medics said.
The group accused Israel of "committing a holocaust as the whole world watches and doesn’t lift a finger to stop."
"The Palestinian resistance reserves the right to hit back at this aggression with martyr operations," spokesman Fawzi Barhum told reporters, referring to suicide bombings which Hamas hasn’t carried out against Israel since January 2005.
In Damascus, top Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal called for a new Palestinian uprising against Israel. "We will not leave our land, we will not raise white flags and we will not kneel except before God," said Ismail Haniya.
Meanwhile as Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak vowed to "expand and deepen" the assault, the world called on Tel Aviv to halt the bombing blitz, a call that has so far been ignored.
In New York, the U.N. Security Council called for an "immediate halt to all violence" and urged all sides "to stop immediately all military activities."
In Rome, the pope said that "the terrestrial homeland of Jesus cannot continue to be the witness of such bloodshed which is repeated ad infinitum."
Britain and Russia joined the growing international chorus for a halt to the violence.
Cuba’s government condemned what it called Israel’s "genocidal" air strikes.
Syria said it had halted indirect peace talks with Israel due to the Jewish state’s "aggression" in Gaza, a senior Syrian official said.
Israel’s Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni urged the international community to cast blame on Hamas.
"I expect the international community, including the entire Arab world, to send a clear message to Hamas: ‘It is your fault. It’s your responsibility. You’re the one who’s being condemned,’" she told NBC’s Meet the Press.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said the campaign was launched "in order to regain a normal life for the citizens in the south who have suffered for many years from incessant rocket, mortar and terror attacks."
Israel’s main ally Washington has blamed Hamas "thugs" for provoking the offensive by firing rockets into the Jewish state from Gaza, and urged Israel to avoid causing civilian casualties.
Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, speaking in Cairo, blamed Hamas for "triggering" Israel’s raids by not extending the ceasefire that Egypt brokered in June.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit said Hamas was not allowing Palestinians wounded in Israel’s attacks on Gaza to cross into Egypt for treatment.
Hamas responded by saying it wanted Cairo to allow more than just sick people to cross into its territory.
Egyptian police fired in the air near the Gaza border town of Rafah to prevent Palestinians entering Egypt after Israel expanded its air campaign to the southern Gaza Strip and bombed some 40 smuggling tunnels running under the border, part of a network that is lifeline to the outside world.
Dozens of Palestinians managed to climb over the border wall into Egypt, with riot police reinforcements being sent to the frontier.
A security services official said Egypt had then shut the Rafah crossing and police were searching for the Palestinians who had managed to enter Egyptian territory.
Tensions on the border crossing, Gaza’s only one to bypass Israel, had risen during the day, with Egypt blaming Hamas for not letting wounded Palestinians through and Hamas asking for medical aid to be handed over.
The tunnels that criss-cross the border are used to bring in much needed goods into the territory that has been virtually cut off from the outside world since Israel enforced its crippling blockade.
Israel unleashed "Operation Cast Lead" against Hamas in the middle of Saturday morning, with some 60 warplanes hitting more than 50 targets in just a few minutes.
The Israeli blitz came after days of spiraling violence since the expiry of the Gaza truce. It comes less than two months before snap parliamentary elections in Israel called for February 10.
Aid groups said they feared a humanitarian crisis. Gaza hospitals said they were running out of supplies because of a long-standing Israeli blockade of the territory.
Palestinian officials said 10 truckloads of flour and medical supplies were transferred through an Israeli border terminal on Sunday.
A security official said that an Egyptian plane with 50 doctors on board as well as medical supplies had arrived in nearby al-Arish. Two Qatari aircrafts carrying 50 tons of medical supplies were waiting at the same airport.
Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah ordered three planeloads of medical aid to Gaza via Egypt, the Egyptian state news agency MENA said, adding he had also offered to airlift the wounded.
Iran has also said it is sending planeloads of food to Cairo to be taken by the Egyptian Red Crescent to Gaza.
(Alarabiya.net and agencies)