GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip - Israeli warplanes rained more than 100 tons of bombs on security sites in Hamas-ruled Gaza on Saturday and early today, killing at least 230 people in one of the Mideast conflict's bloodiest assaults in decades. The government said the open-ended campaign was aimed at stopping rocket attacks that have traumatized southern Israel.
Most of the casualties were security forces, but Palestinian officials said at least
15 civilians were among the dead. More than 400 people were also wounded.
The unprecedented assault sparked protests and condemnations throughout the Arab world, and many of Israel's Western allies urged restraint, though the U.S. blamed Hamas for the fighting.
But there was no end in sight. The first round of strikes began around noon Saturday followed by successive waves of attacks that continued into the early hours today.
Israel warned it might go after Hamas' leaders, and militants kept pelting Israel with rockets - killing at least one Israeli and wounding six.
Hundreds of Israeli infantry and armored corps troops headed for the Gaza border in preparation for a possible ground invasion, military officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity under army guidelines.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said late Saturday that the goal was "to bring about a fundamental improvement in the security situation." He added, "It could take some time."
The Israeli airstrikes caused widespread panic and confusion, and black plumes of smoke billowed above the territory, ruled by the Islamic militant group Hamas for the past
18 months. Some of the Israeli missiles struck in densely populated areas as students were leaving school, and women rushed into the streets frantically looking for their children.
Militants often operate against Israel from civilian areas. Late Saturday, thousands of Gazans received Arabic-language cell-phone messages from the Israeli military, urging them to leave homes where militants might have stashed weapons.
The offensive began eight days after a six-month truce between Israel and the militants expired. The Israeli army says Palestinian militants have fired some 300 rockets and mortars at Israeli targets over the past week, and 10 times that number over the past year.
Despite the overwhelming show of force, it was not clear the offensive would halt the rocket fire. Past operations have never achieved that goal.
Late Saturday, Gaza health official Dr. Moaiya Hassanain said 230 Palestinians were killed and more than 400 were wounded.