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UN chief expresses concern over Gaza conflict

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged the divided UN Security Council to work for a speedy end to the escalating crisis in Gaza following Israel's ground attack.

world Updated: Jan 05, 2009 08:41 IST

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged the divided UN Security Council on Sunday to work for a speedy end to the escalating crisis in Gaza following Israel's ground attack. Ban said he recalled Robert Serry, his special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, from Jerusalem to brief him on the situation on the ground. And Ban planned to meet on Monday with Arab ministers who are flying to New York to press for a Security Council resolution demanding an immediate end to the violence.

The United States late on Saturday blocked approval of a council statement calling for an immediate cease-fire between Israel and Hamas and expressing serious concern at the escalation of violence, council diplomats said. The statement was put forward after Israeli tanks and artillery began their assault on Hamas-ruled Gaza. US deputy ambassador Alejandro Wolff said the United States saw no prospect of Hamas abiding by last week's council call for an immediate end to the violence. Therefore, he said, a new statement at this time "would not be adhered to and would have no underpinning for success, (and) would not do credit to the council."

While the council took no action Saturday night, an Arab draft resolution circulated by Libya on Wednesday night that would condemn Israel and halt its military attacks on Gaza remains on the table. It would have to be revised, however, since the United States called it "unacceptable" and "unbalanced" because it doesn't call for an end to the Hamas rocketing of Israel.

In a statement, Ban said he "will be working actively with members of the council and other key players, in particular Arab leaders who I am seeing tomorrow at United Nations headquarters, to facilitate the emergence of a consensus."

"I believe the United Nations, in particular the Security Council, has a central role to play in bringing a speedy end to the conflict," Ban said. "I regret that the Security Council has not been able to reach a consensus."

He added: "Given the crucial juncture at which we have arrived in the search for a cease-fire, I appeal to all members of the international community to display the unity and commitment required to bring this escalating crisis to an end."

With more than 510 Palestinians killed in Gaza and over 2,500 injured, the Israeli government has come under strong criticism for the excessive use of force. Five Israelis also have died. Israel maintains the offensive _ one of the Mideast's bloodiest assaults in decades _ is aimed at stopping rocket attacks from Hamas-controlled Gaza that have traumatized southern Israel. Wolff stressed that Israel is a sovereign state and has a right to defend itself against Hamas, which is committed to Israel's destruction and has been labeled a terrorist organization by the United States. Israeli leaders have said the offensive is aimed at damaging Hamas' infrastructure and ability to fire rockets indiscriminately at cities and towns.

Ban said he remains "extremely concerned about the deteriorating humanitarian situation" in Gaza.

The UN is in close contact with Israeli authorities and has urged them to open crossings to allow passage of flour and fuel for the Gaza power plant.