RIYADH, March 2 (Reuters) - U.S. ally Saudi Arabia compared Israel’s offensive in the Gaza Strip to Nazi war crimes on Sunday and called on the international community to stop what it called the "mass killings" of Palestinians.
Israeli forces killed 61 people in Hamas-ruled Gaza on Saturday, the bloodiest day for Palestinians since an uprising against Israeli occupation began in 2000. Almost half the dead were civilians, including children.
"Saudi Arabia, which condemns the Israeli war crimes against the Palestinian people and the threats of Israeli officials to transform Gaza into an inferno, sees that Israel is simulating through these actions the Nazi war crimes," the Saudi official news agency SPA reported.
"Therefore, Saudi Arabia urges the international community, peace-sponsoring countries and the international Quartet to work to curb the Israeli military machine and stop it from carrying out mass killings and destruction against the Palestinian people and their properties." The Saudi statement appeared to refer to a warning by Israel’s deputy defence minister that Gazans risked a "shoah" — a Hebrew word for holocaust — if rocket fire into Israel did not stop. Aides later said he meant disaster and not holocaust.
Hamas, an Islamist group which seized Gaza after routing forces loyal to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, held the comment up as proof their Israeli enemies were the "new Nazis."
Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak said on Sunday Israel needed to prepare for a possible escalation in Gaza. The Jewish state, which lost two soldiers in Saturday’s fighting, has pushed deep into Gaza in an effort to stop Palestinian militants from firing rockets into southern Israel.
The offensive was launched after a rocket killed an Israeli on Wednesday.
"Saudi Arabia watches with utmost concern what is happening in Gaza; the killing of children, women and elderly, the destruction of houses over their owners’ heads, the intimidation at the hands of Israel’s military machine," SPA said. "The kingdom strongly condemns these actions that go against international law and humanitarian norms ... and contradict what Israel says about its desire for peace."
The U.N. Security Council on Sunday urged Israel and the Palestinians to cease all violence in Gaza after the secretary-general condemned Israel’s "excessive" use of force.
Saudi Arabia, a major Arab power broker which attended a U.S.-sponsored peace conference in Annapolis in November, renewed calls for a comprehensive Middle East peace deal. (Writing by Lin Noueihed)