Israel is taking the necessary steps to respond to threats from rocket and mortar attacks by Hamas in the Gaza Strip, the White House said on Monday, despite world condemnation of the raids that have killed more than 300 people so far.
"Israel is going after terrorists who are firing rockets and mortars into Israel, and they are taking the steps that they feel are necessary to deal with the terrorist threat," White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said in Texas where
The White House reaction comes as the international community piled pressure on Israel to halt its assault and Muslim nations angrily condemned Israel, while thousands of Arabs took to the streets to protest against what is widely seen as a massacre in Gaza.
U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon added his voice to the 15-member Security Council's call for an immediate end to hostilities and urged Israel to allow humanitarian aid into the poverty-stricken territory.
"He deplores that violence is continuing today, and he strongly urges once again an immediate stop to all acts of violence," which has already left more than 300 people dead, his spokeswoman Michele Montas said in a statement.
European nations called for a ceasefire. Many foreign ministers have spoken to Israel's Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni
British Foreign Secretary David Miliband warned the Middle East was facing a "dangerous and dark moment" as he renewed a call for an end to the fighting.
Miliband told BBC radio: "I think that any innocent loss of life is unacceptable and in this case there have been massive casualties, some of them civilians and some of them children."
Shock and concern
China and Japan also joined the growing international chorus for a halt to the violence that includes Britain, France and Russia.
Beijing said it was "shocked and seriously concerned" at the violence, while Japan called on Israel to "exercise its utmost self-restraint" and for Palestinian militants to halt rocket attacks.
Pope Benedict XVI implored the international community to do "all it can to help the Israelis and Palestinians on this dead-end road... and not to give in to the perverse logic of confrontation and violence."
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov who also spoke to Livni made a call to "urgently halt" the military action.
Abbas calls for intl troops
Meanwhile, the Palestinians' umbrella organisation PLO called for the deployment of international troops in Gaza to protect it from "Israeli crimes."
"The executive committee of the PLO has called for the deployment of an international force in the Gaza Strip to protect the Palestinian people from Israeli crimes," Tayeb Abdelrahim, a senior aide to president Mahmud Abbas, told reporters.
"President Abbas is deploying intense efforts within the international community to protect our people and stop the massacres," he said.
'Invasion of Islamic rights'
Afghanistan's Islamist Taliban group condemned Israel's attacks as an "invasion of Islamic rights" and accused world leaders of double standards over the air strikes.
The Taliban called on Islamic countries to unite against what it called the "massacre of an Islamic umma (nation), invasion of Islamic values and rights, and the invasion of Palestine, Afghanistan and Iraq."
In a statement, the Taliban said if such "barbaric acts" had been carried out by a Muslim group, there would almost certainly be a "worldwide outcry".