TORONTO - Palestinian-Canadians mourning the deaths of more than 200 people Saturday in Gaza are urging Ottawa to send aid in the wake of Israeli air strikes targeting security compounds that have also wounded hundreds of others.

One community leader who represents about 12,000 Palestinian-Canadians in the Mississauga, Ont., area is calling the strikes "genocide ... a Hanukkah gift from the Israeli government."

"We have many of our community members, their background is from Gaza, and we cannot talk to them because they're still waiting to hear if they lost family members or not," said Farid Ayad, president of Palestine House.

"So this is a sad day."

The violence, some of the worst in years, comes as Israel retaliates for recent rocket attacks by Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip.

In Montreal, Laith Marouf of Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights reacted with sorrow and shock.

"Most Palestinian people are trying to call their family, trying to figure out if everybody is alive and well," he said.

"It's hard to contact people under these circumstances. Most of the community is probably glued to their televisions and radios and are very worried about their relatives - across Palestine, not only in Gaza."

Both Ayad and Marouf said the Conservative government must push Israel to stop the siege and then send food and fuel to civilians.

"We urge our government to interfere for a change and to put pressure on the Israeli government," Ayad said.

"I know the Conservative government has good relations with the Israeli government and I'm sure Canada could play a peaceful role in the region."

Lawrence Cannon, Canada's minister of foreign affairs, issued a statement Saturday expressing concern about the escalating situation and loss of life and suffering on all sides.

"Israel has a clear right to defend itself against the continued rocket attacks by Palestinian militant groups which have deliberately targeted civilians," he said.

"First and foremost, those rocket attacks must stop. At the same time, we urge both sides to use all efforts to avoid civilian casualties and to create the conditions to allow safe and unhindered humanitarian access to those in need in Gaza."

Cannon also pushed for renewed efforts to reach a ceasefire between Hamas and Israel, and for Israeli and Palestinian leaders to remain committed to creating a peace deal.

Moshe Ronen, chairman of the Canada-Israeli Committee, said he's not surprised by the events of the past day, calling the Hamas strikes an "intolerable situation."

"The injury and the death of any civilian is a tragedy," he said in a telephone interview from Tel Aviv.

"But we have to understand that the Israeli military has clearly announced that it's directing its fire at the militants, its directing it at specific targets. Most of the attacks were surgical in precision."

Hamas builds many of its bases in civilian areas, which leads to inevitable loss of life and becomes their responsibility, he said.

Coincidentally, Ronen was meeting the Knesset's chair of security and foreign affairs at the time the strikes were launched.

"I know initial reports he received, both from officials and staff ... were that (the Israel Defence Forces') orders were to pinpoint and be very precise in targets that were laid out well before this attack took place."

Ayad, however, believes the attacks are part of an Israeli election campaign orchestrated by officials hoping to make gains in popularity as voting nears. The elections to the Knesset are set for Feb. 10.

"So on the expense of the Palestinian blood, on the expense of the Palestinian women and children and animals they're trying to govern, they're trying to convince Israeli voters to vote for them," he said.

A demonstration of Palestinians in Canada is being planned for Sunday at 2 p.m. outside the Israeli Consulate in Toronto.

More demonstrations are also being planned by Solidarity in Montreal, along with Tadamon, a collective that lobbies for the rights of the Middle-eastern Diaspora in the city.