The White House has said that Hamas "thugs" were responsible for provoking the Israeli air raids that killed and injured hundreds of people in the Gaza Strip.
Gordon Johndroe, the Bush administration spokesman, said Israel must try to avoid civilian casualties, but laid the blame for deaths on the Palestinian groups that controls the impoverished territory.
"These people [Hamas] are nothing but thugs, and so Israel is going to defend its people against terrorists like Hamas," he said late on Saturday.
The remarks late on Saturday came as the United Nations held an emergency meeting to discuss the attacks, and just hours after the Arab League announced it was preparing to hold a summit in Doha, Qatar on January 2.
Johndroe said the US wanted to see the six-month truce between Israel and Hamas, which ended on December 19, restored, but that this could only be done if Palestinian fighters end their missile attacks on Israel.
"If Hamas stops firing rockets into Israel, then Israel would not have a need for strikes in Gaza," he told reporters. "What we've got to see is Hamas stop firing rockets into Israel."
"We call for an immediate ceasefire and urge everybody to exert maximum restraint"
EU foreign policy chief
George Bush, the US president, discussed the fighting with King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, Stephen Hadley, the US national security adviser, and Condoleezza Rice, US secretary of state, Johndroe said.
The Saudi state news agency SPA reported that King Abdullah had discussed "the Israeli aggression against Gaza" and the "implications of continuing Israel's policies of blockade, occupation and torture against the Palestinian people all over the occupied territories."
He reportedly called for "the major countries to shoulder their responsibilities to stop this Israeli attack and save the lives of the innocent and remaining infrastructure in the Palestinian territories".
Rice released a statement urging "all concerned to protect innocent lives and to address the urgent humanitarian needs of the people of Gaza".
The Arab League summit has said it plans to hold a summit on the issue in Doha, Qatar on January 2. At least 10 nations have already agreed to take part.
Arab foreign ministers were due to hold an emergency meeting to take a common position on Israeli raids on Sunday but the meeting was postponed until Wednesday.
|Amr Moussa said Arab foreign ministers would meet on Wednesday [AFP]
Amr Moussa, Arab League secretary-general, said the meeting was postponed because many ministers were busy in separate meetings of two Arab regional groups - the Gulf Co-operation 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," he said.
However, the attacks were likely to dominate an economic summit of Gulf leaders in Oman.
"The issue will impose itself on the agenda. The events of yesterday will have their deserved place in the discussions," Hamad al-Rashdi, Oman's information minister, said.
On Saturday, the head of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), which comprises of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Qatar, Bahrain and Kuwait, described the attacks as "barbaric" and "ugly".
Egypt condemned Israel's raids and said it would keep trying to restore a truce between Israel and Gaza.
A presidential statement quoted by the Mena news agency said Egypt held Israel responsible for the deaths and injuries that result from the raids.
"Egypt will continue its contacts to prepare an atmosphere conducive to restoring the period of calm and achieving reconciliation between the Palestinian groups."
Javier Solana, the EU foreign policy chief, also called for an immediate ceasefire.
"We are very concerned at the events in Gaza," he said. "We call for an immediate ceasefire and urge everybody to exert maximum restraint."
Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, said the "escalation" must be halted.
A statement from the Elysee Palace said that there was "no military solution in Gaza" and called for the "conclusion of a lasting truce".
The Russian foreign ministry said: "Russia believes it is necessary to halt immediately the large-scale acts of force against the Gaza Strip, which have already caused considerable victims and suffering amongst the Palestinian population.
"At the same time, we call on the leadership of Hamas to stop firing rocket on Israeli territory," it said, adding that the most important priority now was for the parties to restore a truce.
Tony Blair, envoy for the so-called Middle East Quartet, deplored the "tragic of loss of life".
He called for a "new strategy for Gaza, which brings that territory back under the legitimate rule of the Palestinian Authority in a manner which ends their suffering and fully protects the security of Israel".