Dubai: More than 270 Palestinian were massacred on the eve of the Islamic New Year yesterday when Israeli warplanes and combat helicopters hammered Hamas security compounds across Gaza in unprecedented waves of simultaneous strikes, the most gruesome in more than 20 years. More than 400 people were injured.

The attacks shocked the Arab world. The UAE on Saturday condemned the Israeli aggression.

In a statement issued by the Foreign Ministry, the UAE voiced its support for holding an emergency Arab League meeting, WAM reported. In a phone conversation, President His Highness Shaikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan discussed with Shaikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Thani, Emir of Qatar, the situation in Gaza in view of the Israeli attacks.

Arab League meeting

However, the attacks seemed to enjoy the approval of the United States, which refrained from calling for an end to the airstrikes and said instead Hamas must stop its rocket attacks on Israel first. Hamas, which rules the strip, vowed revenge and hit a Jewish town with few rockets.

The Israeli massacre in broad daylight threatened to plunge the region into a wider conflict, Arab officials warned. Arab foreign ministers are expected to meet in Cairo on Sunday.

Meanwhile, Syria, the current chair of the Arab League, and Qatar called for an emergency Arab summit. The attacks are also expected to overshadow the Gulf summit, which starts on Monday in Muscat.

In Gaza Strip, where Palestinians have languished without regular supplies of food, other humanitarian aid and electricity for more than a year due to a crippling Israeli blockade, mangled bodies and wailing relatives filled hospitals amid chaotic scene of smoke and destruction. Arabs in other countries took to the streets protesting the attacks and "official silence" of the Arab governments.

Israel military officials said over 100 tonnes of bombs had been dropped on Gaza by nearly 60 planes mid-afternoon on Saturday.

Israeli warplanes kept up attacks on targets in Gaza late into the night, striking at a metal foundry and other sites in the south of the coastal strip, Hamas officials and witnesses said.

Militants in the Gaza Strip, meanwhile, fired more salvoes that killed one Israeli man and wounded several others.

Both sides said they were ready to stage wider assaults, threatening to plunge the region into a crisis that could leave stalled talks over Palestinian statehood in tatters.

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 Hamas was hosting graduation ceremonies 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."

More than 400 Palestinians were wounded in all, medics said.

Israel said the operation, dubbed "Solid Lead," targeted "terrorist infrastructure" following days of rocket attacks on southern Israel that caused damage but few injuries. An army spokeswoman said Hamas leaders could be targeted.

"There is a time for calm and a time for fighting, and now the time has come to fight," Defense Minister Ehud Barak said.

Barak said "the operation will last as long as necessary" but it was not clear if it would include a ground offensive.

Asked if Hamas political leaders might be targeted next, military spokeswoman Major Avital Leibovitch said "Anything belonging to Hamas could be a target. You can interpret that as you like."

Gaza militants fired several Grad-type Katyusha rockets at southern Israel in response to the strikes, the military said. One hit in the border community of Netivot, killing a woman and wounding four people, Israel's rescue service reported.

The Isreali strikes caused widespread panic and confusion as black clouds of smoke rose above Gaza. Some of the missiles struck in densely populated areas as children were leaving school and women rushed into the streets frantically looking for their children.

Hamas leaders threatened revenge attacks and Israel told its civilians near Gaza to take cover as militants began retaliating with rockets.

In the West Bank, Hamas' rival Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas condemned "this aggression" and called for restraint, according to an aide, Nabil Abu Rdeneh. Abbas, who has ruled only the West Bank since Islamic Hamas seized power in Gaza in June 2007, was in contact with Arab leaders and his West Bank Cabinet convened an emergency session.

Egypt opened its border with Gaza to allow ambulances to drive out some of the wounded.

Hamas officials said all of Gaza's security compounds were destroyed. Israel Army Radio said at least 40 targets were hit.

Barak said the coming period "won't be easy and won't be short for the communities in the south" of Israel.

Israel declared a state of emergency in Israeli communities within a 12-mile range of Gaza, putting the area on a war footing.

Hamas said it would take revenge not just with rocket attacks but by sending suicide bombers into Israel. "Hamas will continue the resistance until the last drop of blood," said spokesman Fawzi Barhoum, speaking on a Gaza radio station.

The first round of air strikes came just before noon, and several more waves followed.

Civilians rushed to the targeted areas, trying to move the wounded in their cars to hospitals.

Television footage showed Gaza City hospitals crowded with people, including civilians rushing in wounded people in cars, vans and ambulances.

"We are treating people on the floor, in the corridors. We have no more space. We don't know who is here and what the priority is to treat," said one doctor who hung up the phone before identifying himself at Shifa Hospital, Gaza's main treatment center.

Israel has targeted Gaza in the past but the number of simultaneous attacks was unprecedented.

Among the dead was police chief Tawfiq Jaber.

Police sources said that Hamas security compounds were badly damaged after at least 30 missiles hit targets in the territory.

Hamas police spokesman Islam Shahwan said a police compound in Gaza City had been hosting a graduation ceremony for new personnel when it was attacked.

Elsewhere in Gaza, at least 23 people were killed and 30 wounded from an attack in Khan Younis refugee camp in the south, medics said.

A statement by the Islamic Jihad group called on fighters to "respond to the Israeli slaughter." It echoed statements issued by Hamas and other armed factions.

Your comments

Everyday palestine people are killed by Israel. Israel occupied Palestine and killed innocent people. Why isnt anyone taking action?
Jahabar Sathik Hakeem
Abu Dhabi,UAE
Posted: December 28, 2008, 11:11

Why is there silence from all over the Arab world? They have the strength to fight back.
Posted: December 28, 2008, 10:37

I fully condemn the attacks on Gaza, as every normal human being and I think influential people should intervene and stop the attacks.
New York,USA
Posted: December 28, 2008, 09:37

It is totally shameful act and must be condemened by everyone all around the world.
Mohammad Danish
Posted: December 28, 2008, 07:04

Where is the world condemning the killing of innocent civilians now? Where is the US flying its 'top officials' to take care of the situation? Are the lives of Palestinian children not as valuable as those of others?
Posted: December 28, 2008, 00:09

Shame on all the people who are standing and doing nothing.
Kaleem Allah
Abu Dhabi,UAE
Posted: December 28, 2008, 00:05

First of all let's pray for martyred and innocent children. International community must act against these barbaric massacres. The international community include Israel also in the hitlist of fight against terrorism.
Posted: December 27, 2008, 23:16

Salaam! It's a shame that the world is silent to Israel's state terrorism and in particular muslim nations remaining as puppets. As muslims we ask Allah SWT to protect the innocent people and children from this manslaughter and warmongering. Ameen! May Allah SWT grant us victory over the evil forces. Ameen!
Syed Naushad
Posted: December 27, 2008, 20:44

I'm ashamed to live in a western country where ALL governments ignore these facts. Justice will find harsher ways to stop these evil people.
Paolo L.
Posted: December 27, 2008, 20:27

This is ridiculous!! Where are the UN to suppress this EVIL LAND GRABBERS(Israelis)?
Posted: December 27, 2008, 19:41

It's very sad thing going on. People are killed just because they are Muslim's. And we all are just the audience in a gallary. Shame on us...
Posted: December 27, 2008, 18:36

It is indeed a slaughter of humanity by the Israeli army. They said that they are pure professionals but to me they are the enemy of mankind. It does not matter whether the dead are Palestinians or Israelis, what matters most is the motive of killing of innocent civilians. It must be condemned and considered as a genocide.
Posted: December 27, 2008, 18:36

Nobody here responds to this brutality. The islamic countries should pressure USA to stop this crime.
Posted: December 27, 2008, 17:53

This is not just a war against Hamas or Palestine, it's against all Muslims around the world. What should Palestinians do to Israel when they won't allow them to live in their own homeland, at least. Everybody knows - even Israelis - how Israel come to the map of middle east. What Palestinians choose is to die in the path of Allah rather than living as slaves of Zionists because they knew that nobody except Allah is coming to save them. LONG LIVE PALESTINE, FINAL VICTORY IS FOR PALESTINE.
Posted: December 27, 2008, 16:50