Over 195 killed as Israel strikes Gaza, Palestinian militants respond

GAZA, December 27 (RIA Novosti) - At least 195 people were killed and about 300 wounded Saturday by Israeli airstrikes in the Gaza Strip, and one Israeli was killed and five injured when Palestinian militants fired rockets into southern Israel in response.

Israel's air force launched on Saturday a number of simultaneous airstrikes targeting the ruling radical Islamist movement Hamas's paramilitary units. Israel's military said the airstrikes would be continued and expanded if required.

Doctors said the number of victims was unprecedented. "I wouldn't even try to count the injured," local health authority spokesman Moawiya Hassanain said.

According to preliminary information, most of the injured in the airstrikes are members of Hamas or the Gaza police controlled by the Islamist movement, which runs the Palestinian enclave on the Mediterranean.

After the bombing, the streets of Gaza became flooded with schoolchildren trying to get home.

"There is complete chaos," said one resident, who was trying to find her daughter, a student. "No one can find anyone and the phone networks are not working."

Al Jazeera reported that Egypt opened its border with the Gaza Strip for Palestinians affected by Israeli airstrikes.

The foreign ministers of Arab countries will gather on Sunday in Cairo for an emergency meeting on the situation in the Gaza Strip, the secretary general of the Arab League said Saturday.

Russia called on Israel and the Palestinian National Authority to end the violence against each other and to resolve regional problems through dialogue.

"Moscow believes that large-scale military action against the Gaza Strip, which has already led to big losses and suffering for Palestinian civilians, should be stopped immediately," the Foreign Ministry said.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert issued a personal "last-minute" appeal to Palestinians in Gaza on Thursday to stop rocket fire at Israel and promised to use "Israel's might" to strike Hamas.

"I say to you in a last-minute call, stop it," Olmert said in an interview with the Arab TV station Al Arabiya, adding: "I will not hesitate to use Israel's might to strike Hamas and [Islamic] Jihad."

On Wednesday, Palestinian militants fired over 40 rockets and 20 mortar shells at southern Israeli border towns in the largest daily attack since the end of a six-month ceasefire in Gaza six days ago.

Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip from President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah group in June 2007.

NEWS @RIA Novosti

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