UN chief calls for immediate end to Israel's ground offensive

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has called for an immediate end to Israel's ground operations in Gaza, according to a UN statement. A meeting of the UN Security Council commenced at 2:00 am Paris time.


AFP - UN chief Ban Ki-moon Saturday urged an immediate end to Israel's ground offensive in the Gaza Strip, his press office said just ahead of an emergency Security Council session on the conflict.

Ban "called for an immediate end to the ground operation, and asked that Israel do all possible to ensure the protection of civilians and that humanitarian assistance is able to reach those in need," his office said in a statement.

The secretary general spoke earlier in the day with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and "conveyed his extreme concern and disappointment," said the statement, issued just before the Security Council was to start talks on Gaza.

"He is convinced and alarmed that this escalation will inevitably increase the already heavy suffering of the affected civilian populations."

Israel moved tanks and troops into the Hamas-run territory Saturday, on the eighth day of an air assault aimed at stopping militant rocket and mortar fire into Israel.

Gaza medics say at least 460 Palestinians have been killed and thousands wounded in the Israeli military operation, its largest since the Jewish state's 2006 war with Lebanon.

Ban said the developments "complicate the efforts" of Middle East peace negotiators and others to end the bloodshed.

"The Secretary-General reiterates his call for an immediate cessation of all violence, and urges regional and international partners to exert all possible influence to bring about an immediate end to the bloodshed and suffering," the statement said.

The Security Council is holing a special meeting on the situation in the Gaza Strip.

The closed-door consultations are the Security Council's third since the conflict erupted on December 27.

The 15-member world body has faced criticism from Arab states who say it has not done enough to stop Israel's military offensive in Gaza.

The Security Council last Sunday adopted a non-binding statement calling for a halt to all military activities in Gaza.

Libya on Wednesday presented a draft resolution from the Arab League to a UN Security Council emergency meeting, calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza between Israel and Hamas.

However, the resolution made no mention of the ongoing Hamas rocket attacks on Israeli territory that Israel said prompted its retaliatory offensive against Gaza.

British and American ambassadors to the United Nations said the draft resolution seemed too partial at first reading.

As Israel's closest ally, Washington has regularly vetoed Security Council resolutions it sees as too critical of the Jewish state.

Palestinian representative to the United Nations Riyad Mansour expressed hope that Security Council members could agree on a truce.

"We hope that the Security Council will announce a demand for an immediate ceasefire from all parts, so that we can get down to the business of having a political resolution to deal with all other aspects of the situation," he said on CNN.

Earlier Saturday in Cairo, Arab League chief Amr Mussa accused the Security Council of "ignoring" Israel's onslaught on Gaza, saying the delay in agreeing on a resolution is proof of failure to handle the conflict.

"The continuation of ... the international community and the Security Council ignoring this situation is a very dangerous thing," he told reporters at a press conference in the pan-Arab organization's Cairo headquarters.

"We see that its not convening is a clear proof of failure in dealing with this huge crisis and allowing Israel an opportunity," he said.

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