With the difficult images of casualties in Gaza filling global news broadcasts, the world's leaders are responding to Israel's operation against Hamas.
The United States on Saturday urged Israel to avoid civilian casualties in its strikes, but did not call for an end to the offensive, essentially signaling its support for the operation. The White House said for the
violence to end, Hamas must stop rocket attacks into Israel.
"Hamas' continued rocket attacks into Israel must cease if the violence is to stop," White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said in Texas where President George W. Bush is on vacation at his ranch.
"Hamas must end its terrorist activities if it wishes to play a role in the future of the Palestinian people," Johndroe said. "The United States urges Israel to avoid civilian casualties as it targets Hamas in Gaza.
The British Foreign Ministry issued a statement saying: "The only way to achieve lasting peace in Gaza is through peaceful means. Whilst we understand the Israeli government's obligation to protect its population we urge maximum restraint to avoid further civilian casualties"
"We also call on militants in the Gaza Strip to immediately cease all rocket attacks on Israel."
France called on both sides to cease the hostilities. President Nicolas Sarkozy condemned the provocations that led to the situation, and the "excessive use of force."
The Russian Foreign Ministry demanded Israel halt the operation immediately: "Moscow deems it necessary to stop large scale military action against Gaza, which had already led to big casualties and suffering among civilian Palestinian population. At the same time we call on Hamas leadership to stop shelling Israeli territory."
'Cairo working to restore truce'
Egypt summoned the Israeli ambassador on Saturday to protest against Israeli raids on Gaza and said Cairo would keep trying to restore a truce, while Syria condemned Israel as 'barbaric'.
An official at the Egyptian foreign ministry told the ambassador that Egypt condemned the Israeli attacks. The ambassador blamed Hamas and said Israel had not sought escalation, Egyptian state news agency MENA said.
A statement from the Egyptian presidency also condemned the Israeli attacks and said Cairo would work to restore a truce between Israel and Gaza. Egypt holds Israel responsible for the casualties in Gaza, it added.
"Egypt will continue its contacts to prepare an atmosphere conducive to restoring the period of calm and achieving reconciliation between the Palestinian groups," it said.
It said Egypt had tried to warn Israel of the grave consequences of attacking Gaza and had called on Palestinian groups to extend a truce which expired just over a week ago.
Egypt called publicly for restraint by both sides on Thursday when Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni came to Cairo for talks with President Hosni Mubarak.
The presidency said Mubarak had given orders that the Rafah border crossing between Gaza and Egypt open for Palestinian casualties and that Egyptian medical facilities be available to all victims of the Israeli raids.
'Gaza op horrid act of terror'
Syria called the strike in Gaza a "barbaric crime", and called on the Arab League to hold a meeting on the subject immediately. "Syria is concernedly following the barbaric Israeli aggression against Palestinian citizens in Gaza and sees it as a horrid act of terror," the country's Foreign Ministry stated.
Meanwhile leaders from Arab nations have held consultations following the launch of the Israeli offensive. The Arab League has announced it will convene its members for an emergency session in the coming hours.
The Al-Jazeera news network has reported that Jordanian King Abdullah has called on Israel to halt all operations in Gaza. Meanwhile, Qatari Emir Sheikh Hamad ibn Khalifa Al-Thani has held talks with
several Arab leaders on possible responses to the operation – including Saudi King Abdullah, Syrian President Bashar Assad and Libyan ruler Muammar Gaddafi.
Qatar has already loaded three aircraft with aid, and plans to send them to Gaza. The planes are awaiting Egypt's authorization to transport the aid through its territory. Meanwhile Egypt has ordered dozens of ambulances to the Rafah crossing to help evacuate wounded Gazans for treatment in Egypt.
Several Sinai hospitals have been put on alert.
Roee Nahmias and Reuters contributed to this report