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Major world powers call for immediate ceasefire in West Asia

Major world powers trying to restart stalled peace process in the West Asia on Wednesday called on Israel and Hamas to immediately implement a ceasefire in the region.

world Updated: Dec 31, 2008 15:25 IST

Major world powers trying to restart stalled peace process in the West Asia on Wednesday called on Israel and Hamas to immediately implement a ceasefire in the region.

The international Quartet comprising the UN, European Union, Russia and the US hold discussions though a teleconference on the deteriorating situation in the West Asia following Israeli air strikes on Gaza Strip.

The Quartet added its voice to the international calls on Israel to halt its bombing of Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip and Hamas to end its rocket firing into southern Israel.

The teleconference was today convened by UN chief Ban Ki-moon after UN agencies warned that hundreds of wounded could die because of lack of medicines in Gaza hospitals.

The consultations took place as the air strikes which Israel says it has launched in reply to Hamas rocket attacks from Gaza entered their fourth day, with over 300 Gazans killed and many hundreds more wounded.

World Health Organization (WHO) urged Israel to ensure immediate provision of fuel and critical life-saving and trauma care supplies.

UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East Commissioner-General Karen AbuZayd told the UN News Centre that the current situation is "much, much worse" than past eruptions of violence in Gaza.

"I've been here throughout the Intifada (Palestinian uprising) for the last eight-and-a-half-years and although we've had some very bad times when there was heavy bombing, never so many people killed in one day," she said.

Besides Ban, those participating included EU High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana, European Commissioner for External Relations Benita Ferrero-Waldner, Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner of France, current EU president, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and Quartet Representative Tony Blair.

"They called for an immediate ceasefire that would be fully respected," the readout of the teleconference provided said. "They agreed on the urgent need for Israelis and Palestinians to continue on the road to peace. They intend to remain in close touch."

Ban had issued a similar call on Tuesday, demanding Israel and Hamas halt acts of violence, avoid civilian casualties, and that Israel keep open all border crossings needed the continued provision of humanitarian supplies to Gaza.

Noting that he had repeatedly condemned rocket attacks by Hamas against Israel, he added, "While recognizing Israel's right to defend itself, I have also condemned the excessive use of force by Israel in Gaza."

WHO underscored the precarious state of Gaza's medical facilities which, it said, were overwhelmed by the number of wounded pouring in after each air strike.

"The inability of the hospitals to cope with a problem of this magnitude, if the situation continues unchanged, will result in a surge in preventable deaths from complications due to trauma. Civilians are paying the price for the prolonged blockade," it said, referring to the closure of crossing points which Israel has imposed.

"As a top priority, the shortages of essential and life-saving medicines need to be abated without delay. The current escalation of the violence only compounds the health situation and unnecessarily exacerbates the fragile status of the civilians caught up in this conflict," it said.

WHO has secured, in collaboration with several Member States, the dispatch of medical kits to cover surgical and trauma interventions and is following up with Palestinian and Israeli authorities to ensure these supplies reach those who need them.

Negotiations with the Israelis are ongoing to guarantee the passage of urgent medical supplies, the agency said, adding that it was also coordinating with other UN agencies, donors and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to ensure aid arrives to those most in need.

"The functioning of hospitals and access to health services are critical in order to respond to the mass casualties," WHO stressed, calling for the removal of blockades to allow in much-needed food, water, fuel, medicines and other humanitarian aid.

The UNICEF voiced deep concern over the impact of the current violence on youngsters and urged all parties to abide by their international legal obligation to ensure that children are protected and receive essential humanitarian supplies and support. Over half of the population in Gaza are children.

"It is critical that humanitarian assistance, including food, medical supplies and equipment be allowed into Gaza to address the urgent needs of children and women," it said in a statement.