World Urges Halt of Gaza Onslaught

The international community condemned on Saturday, December 27, a massive wave of Israeli airstrikes against the sealed off Gaza Strip that claimed the lives of at least 206 Palestinians, urging an immediate halt to the attacks.

"(The EU) expresses greatest concern at the escalation of violence in the Gaza Strip and deplores the very large number of civilian victims," the EU Presidency said in statement.

"It condemns the disproportionate use of force."

At least 206 Palestinians were killed and hundreds wounded in a series of Israeli airstrikes on scores of targets in Gaza Strip earlier Saturday.

Moscow demanded Israel to stop its indiscriminate airstrikes.

"Russia believes it is necessary to halt immediately the large-scale acts of force against the Gaza Strip, which have already caused considerable victims and suffering amongst the Palestinian population," the Foreign Ministry said.

"We are deeply concerned by the reports of deaths and injuries of innocent civilians in the Gaza Strip following the recent Israeli air strikes," a British Foreign Office spokesman said.

"The only way to achieve a lasting peace in Gaza is through peaceful means."

Tension between Israel and Palestinian resistance groups in Gaza has been running high since the expiry of six-month truce a week ago.

Israeli leaders have vowed to launch a massive offensive to end Hamas rule in Gaza, sealed off by Israel since last June.

Arab Summit

The Organization of the Islamic Conference, which groups 57 countries representing 1.3 billion Muslims, slammed the Israeli onslaught.

"The latest Israeli massacre is a war crime and shows what little regard Israel has for international law and the 4th Geneva convention on the protection of civilians in time of war," OIC Secretary General Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu said in a statement.

He called on Palestinian factions to begin an immediate national dialogue with the aim of restoring unity and ending divisions.

Ihsanoglu has called a high-level OIC meeting to discuss Gaza and urged the international community to take urgent action "to end Israeli violations and protect the Palestinian people."

The Israeli onslaught provoked criticism and indignation across the Arab world.

"Egypt condemns the Israeli military aggression on the Gaza Strip and blames Israel, as an occupying force, for the victims and the wounded," Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said in a statement.

He ordered the opening of the long-closed Rafah terminal, Gaza’s only window to the outside world, so that wounded Palestinians can receive treatment in Egyptian hospitals.

In Cairo on Thursday, Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni vowed to strike Gaza to oust Hamas.

Libyan leader Maummar Gaddafi contacted Arab leaders to seek a "firm position" on the deadly Israeli offensive.

"The council of Arab foreign ministers will hold an extraordinary and immediate meeting tomorrow or the day after at the request of Jordan," Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa said.

"It will take a joint Arab position on what is happening and at the same time agree on the steps to be taken."

Mussa asked Libya, as a member of the United Nations Security Council, to organize an emergency meeting of the council on the issue.

"We are facing a continuing spectacle which has been carefully planned," said Moussa.

"So we have to expect that there will be many casualties. We face a major humanitarian catastrophe."

( and agencies)

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