UN Chief Ban Ki-moon said on Monday that he was deeply alarmed by the current escalation of violence in and around Gaza, and that such continued violence is "unacceptable."
"I have been repeatedly condemning the rocket attacks by Hamas militants against Israel. While recognizing Israel's right to defend itself, I have also condemned the excessive use of force by Israel in Gaza," Ban told a press conference at UN Headquarters.
The secretary-general said he was "profoundly saddened" by the suffering caused to civilian populations as a result of the "large- scale violence and destruction" in the past few days.
"All this must stop. Both Israel and Hamas must halt their acts of violence and take all necessary measures to avoid civilian casualties," Ban said. "A ceasefire must be declared immediately. They must also curb their inflammatory rhetoric."
"Only then can dialogue start," he said, urging regional and international partners to "use all possible means to end the violence and encourage political dialogue, emphasizing peaceful ways of resolving differences."
Taking note of an imminent meeting of Arab foreign ministers, Ban urged them to "act swiftly and decisively to bring an early end to this impasse."
"At the same time, other world leaders must also step up efforts to support a longer term resolution of the issue," he added.
Also speaking at the press conference, UN humanitarian chief John Holmes said that some 320 people have been killed and 1,400 others injured on the Palestinian side amid the Israeli raids.
Sixty-two of those killed are women and children, he said.
On the Israeli side, two have been killed by rocket attacks, Holmes added.
(Xinhua News Agency December 30, 2008)