PARIS - The international community understands Israel's reasons for launching an offensive in the Gaza Strip that will continue until Hamas halts rocket attacks, an Israeli government spokesman said Sunday.
"There is on an international level much understanding of the fact that we are exercising our legitimate right to self-defense against attacks perpetrated from the territory of Gaza by Hamas terrorists," said Avi Pazner in an interview to French radio Europe 1.
The spokesman noted that the new Czech presidency of the European Union had described Israel's ground operation as "more defensive than offensive" although France condemned the land offensive launched Saturday.
Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek made the comment but Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg later added: "Even the indisputable right of the state to defend itself does not allow actions which largely affect civilians."
Israel launched a ground offensive in Gaza after a week of air strikes to halt rocket attacks by Hamas, the Palestinian group that seized control of the territory in June 2007.
More than 485 Palestinians have died and 2,400 wounded since the start of the Israeli campaign on December 27, according to medics in Gaza.
"We do intend to continue this operation until we manage to silence these missiles and rockets and completely change the security situation in the south of our country," added Pazner.
The UN Security Council failed to agree a statement calling for a ceasefire despite nearly four hours of closed-door consultations late on Saturday.
The Palestinian Authority's envoy to the European Union, Leila Shahid, separately said Europe's credibility was on the line in the drive to reach a ceasefire and suggested the 27-nation EU should consider sanctions.
"There must be an international initiative and the visit of the European delegation and of President Sarkozy offers the best prospect" for this, Shahid told Europe 1.
"Europe's credibility is on the line," she said.
An EU delegation comprised of the French, Swedish and Czech foreign ministers was due in Egypt on Sunday for talks on ending the violence ahead of French President Nicolas Sarkozy's mission to the region.
"You are not going to convince me that the EU cannot demand a ceasefire from Israel," said Shahid. "It is obvious that we need a tougher stance and if needed, sanctions."
Sarkozy will travel to the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh on Monday for talks with President Hosni Mubarak before heading to Ramallah to meet Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas.
The French president will hold talks in Jerusalem later Monday with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert whose government has rejected a French call for a 48-hour humanitarian truce.
On Tuesday, he travels to Syria for talks with President Bashar al-Assad and to Lebanon to visit French troops serving in a UN force in south Lebanon.