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UN calls for 'immediate stop' to violence in Gaza
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UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Sunday he was saddened by the Palestinian casualties in Israeli air strikes since Saturday and called for an immediate end to all acts of violence in Gaza and southern Israel.

In a statement issued here by his spokesperson, Ban said "he deplores that violence is continuing today, and he strongly urges once again an immediate stop to all acts of violence."

The UN chief joined the UN Security Council's call for an immediate end to all violence and military activities after Israeli airstrikes on the Gaza Strip left at least 280 people dead and hundreds of others injured.

"He is saddened by Palestinian casualties," the statement said, adding that among those killed were eight trainees of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).

"The secretary-general also expects the Security Council's call for all parties to address the humanitarian and the economic needs in Gaza to be fully heeded, in particular, for border crossings to be opened by Israel for the continuous provision of humanitarian supplies," the statement said.

On Sunday morning, the Security Council expressed "serious concern" over the latest conflict in the Gaza Strip and called for an immediate end to the violence there.

"The members of the council express serious concern at the escalation of the situation in Gaza, and call for an immediate halt to violence," said Croatia's UN Ambassador Neven Jurica, current president of the UN body, after an emergency council meeting on the latest Israeli-Palestinian clashes.

The UN has repeatedly brought to the attention of the Israeli government shortages of humanitarian supplies in Gaza in recent weeks, the secretary-general's statement said.

The humanitarian coordinator in the occupied Palestinian territory met with Israeli officials Friday and received a guarantee that all required humanitarian supplies and personnel would be allowed into Gaza.

Earlier, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni gave the UN secretary-general their personnel assurances for the safe passage of aid and personnel, the statement said.

"The secretary-general fully expects this cooperation to continue on a rolling basis in the coming days," it added.

Aside from urging diplomats involved in the Middle East Quartet "to underscore the urgent need to restore calm" in Gaza, Ban also spoke to top leaders from Israel, Palestine, Egypt, Syria and the secretary-general of the Arab League.

(Xinhua News Agency December 29, 2008)

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