More than 150 people were killed and at least 300 were wounded in Israeli air strikes on the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip on Saturday, the Islamist group said.
The assault was launched in response to the incessant rocket and mortar fire from the Strip at the western Negev.
In the offensive, lauched at around 11:30 am and carried out in two separate waves of attacks, over 100 bombs were dropped on dozens of targets. Some 80 warplanes and helicopters took part in the assault.
A Hamas police spokesman and witnesses said Israel's air force fired about 30 missiles at targets in Gaza, destroying several Hamas
Shortly after the strikes in Gaza a rocket attack on Netivot killed
an Israeli man was and wounded six other people. At least 30 rockets were fired at Israel following the attack.
Television footage showed dead bodies scattered on a road and wounded and dead being carried away by distraught rescuers. There was widespread damage to buildings.
Hamas police spokesman Islam Shahwan told Hamas radio that a police compound in Gaza City had been hosting a graduation ceremony for new personnel when it was attacked. Among those killed in the strike on the compound was Tawfiq Jabar, head of the Palestinian police in Gaza.
At least four Hamas gunmen were killed in an attack on an outpost that once served the Palestinian Authority's Force-17 security cadre in the western part of the Strip. Four more gunmen belonging to the Islamist group were killed in other aerial strikes along the coastal enclave, according to reports.
At least two people were killed and 30 wounded from an attack in Khan Younis, a refugee camp in the south of Gaza.
A Reuters correspondent said Gaza City port and security installations of the Islamist Hamas group were badly damaged. Thick black smoke billowed over the city.
The IDF said the first series of attacks on Hamas targets in Gaza has ended and that the operation will be expanded.
Strike in Gaza (Photo: AFP)
As the IAF launched its attack, Defense Minister Ehud Barak declared the Gaza vicinity communities under a "special situation in the home front," giving security forces special jurisdiction over the area and allowing them to make municipal decision the likes of how the local schools and industries will operate.
The special situation status includes all communities within a 13-mile radius of the Gaza Strip.
The series of attacks followed a decision by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's security
cabinet to widen reprisals for cross-border Palestinian rocket attacks on Israel.
A six-month truce expired last week in Gaza.
Devastation in Gaza (Photo: AP)
Moussa Abu Marzouk, deputy head of Hamas' Damascus-based political bureau, said his organization would retaliate. "We will defend our women and children by any means necessary. All the options are open," he said.
Senior Islamic Jihad figure
Khaled el-Bash told Al-Jazeera that the IDF strikes "mean war."
"Israel has declared an open war on the Palestinian people. This never would have happened had it not been for the Arab states' silence. We will never surrender in the face of planes and tanks," he said.
"This attack resembles the way in which the war against Hizbullah began in 2006. It was aimed at the resistance's infrastructure; it had nothing to do with the rocket fire. Israel wants to create a victory for itself and we expect the Arab nations not to remain silent."
Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee in the Egyptian parliament, Dr. Mustafa El-Fiqi, said that "Israel is an aggressive country which poses a danger to all the nations in the region…its aspiration may not stop at the Gaza Strip and may stretch to Egypt.
"Egypt has tried to stop the rocket fire and the Israeli operation but to no avail. The claims that the Rafah crossing between Egypt and Gaza is closed are false – it is open for humanitarian aid and 60% of the aid going into Gaza goes through it; but every county must guard is borders. "
Palestinian gunmen fired a Qassam rocket into Israel on Friday night, after several hours of tense calm in the western Negev.
The rocket exploded in a kibbutz in the Sdot Negev Regional Council, causing light damage to a building. There were no reports of injuries.
About a dozen rockets and mortar bombs were fired from Gaza on Friday. One accidentally struck a northern Gaza house killing two Palestinian sisters, aged five and 13, and wounding a third, Palestinian medics said.