Gaza: Israel pounded Gaza with airstrikes for a second successive day on Sunday, bringing the death toll to 229 in what is one of the bloodiest events in Palestinian history.

"Palestine has never seen an uglier massacre," Hamas leader Ismail Haniyah said, vowing to seek revenge and including suicide bombings in Israel's "cafes and streets".

Israel beefed up armoured and infantry forces along the Gaza border. A military spokesman said on Sunday: "The (Gaza) operation is continuous. It is still taking place."

The Jewish state launched about 100 strikes on the Gaza Strip on Saturday, in response to "intolerable" rocket attacks by Gaza militants that had intensified after Hamas ended a six-month ceasefire a week ago.

The rocket attacks caused few injuries and little damage, but Israeli leaders were under pressure to halt them before the February election.

Israel said Palestinian militants had fired some 70 rockets on Saturday, killing one Israeli man.

"There is a time for calm and a time for fighting, and now the time has come to fight," Defence Minister Ehud Barak said on television. He later ruled out any new truce with Hamas.

Smoke billowed over the Strip after Israel pounded more than 40 security compounds that Israel described as "terrorist infrastructure".

Some Palestinians were warned that their homes would be targeted and were urged to leave.

An attack on a mosque that Israel said was used for "terrorist activities" killed two Palestinians.

Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni called for international support against "an extremist Islamist organisation ... that is being supported by Iran", Israel's arch-foe.

The United States called on Hamas to prevent more violence. In a statement, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said: "The United States ... holds Hamas responsible for breaking the ceasefire and for the renewal of violence in Gaza. The ceasefire should be restored immediately."
The United Nations and the European Union called for an immediate halt to all violence.

Envoys of the 15-nation UN Security Council held closed-doors meetings late on Saturday evening to discuss the situation in Gaza.

Diplomats said the council was discussing a Russian-drafted statement calling for a halt to Israeli military operations in Gaza and as well as to rocket attacks upon Israel.

The meeting had been convened at the request of Libya, the only Arab country on the council.

Earlier, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for an immediate halt to the violence in the Hamas-ruled Gaza strip and in southern Israel.

The Arab League has delayed until Wednesday a meeting of Arab foreign ministers called to take a common position on Israeli raids, because many ministers were busy in separate meetings of two Arab regional groups - the Gulf Cooperation Council and the Maghreb Union.

"The time worries us very much because of the delay in holding the ministerial meeting but we will not remain silent and consultations are continuing," Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa added.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas condemned Israel's "criminal" action, and urged powers to intervene.

Egypt said it would keep trying to restore the truce.

Saturday's death toll was the highest for a single day in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict since 1948, when the Jewish state was established.

At least 100 of the dead belonged to Hamas security forces.

More than 700 Palestinians were wounded in Saturday's massacre, medical staff said.

Hospitals were struggling to cope with the influx and were running out of medical supplies because of an Israeli-led blockade.

Aid groups said they feared the operation could fuel a humanitarian crisis in the area.