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Europe

EU Condemns 'Unacceptable' Palestinian Deaths

The European Union's top foreign-policy official on Saturday condemned as "unacceptable" the death of Palestinian civilians in Israeli air-strikes and called for an end to violence. The death toll is now over 270.

An injured Palestinian is helped from the rubble following an Israeli missile strike in Rafah, southern Gaza Strip

An injured Palestinian is helped following an Israeli missile strike in the southern Gaza Strip

"The current Israeli strikes are inflicting an unacceptable toll on Palestinian civilians and will only worsen the humanitarian crisis as well as complicate the search for a peaceful solution," EU High Representative Javier Solana said in a statement.

"I call for an immediate cessation of military actions on both sides. The EU has repeatedly condemned rocket attacks against Israel," the statement said.

Javier Solana

Javier Solana

Solana's comment came hours after the French government, which holds the EU's rotating presidency until the end of the year, condemned a series of rocket attacks on Israel launched from the Gaza Strip as an "unjustifiable provocation" and the Israeli response as "disproportionate."

The EU sees Israel as one of its most important foreign partners, but is the largest donor of aid to the Palestinian territories, giving it a keen interest in seeing stability in the region.

Recently, the bloc has highlighted Israel's closure of the key crossings into and out of Gaza as exacerbating the already difficult situation.

Day two

Israeli aircraft pounded the Gaza Strip for the second day Sunday, hitting a Hamas headquarters in Gaza City, witnesses said, and bringing to 22 the number of attacks launched against the Islamist movement since midnight.

Hamas members

Hamas has continued launching rocket attacks on Israel

The death toll in the Israeli raids stood at 271 by mid-morning Sunday, the majority believed to be militants. A further 900 people are reported to be wounded, some 120 of them seriously.

Israel opened its air offensive against Hamas positions in the Strip late Saturday morning, in response to the more than 200 rockets and mortars Hamas and other militant groups have launched at the Jewish state since the end of a truce on December 19.

Israeli officials, from Prime Minister Ehud Olmert down, said Saturday that "Operation Cast Lead" was not limited by time constraints and was designed to bring about an end to the rocket fire from the Gaza Strip.

But militants in Gaza have fired dozens more rockets and mortars at Israeli border communities, despite the deadly air strikes.

One rocket struck close to the largest city in southern Israel, Ashdod, some 38 kilometers (23 miles) from Gaza.

UN reaction

Early on Sunday, the United Nations Security Council added its voice to those calling for an immediate end to all violence in Gaza.

UN Security Council

UN Security Council

"The members of the Security Council expressed serious concern at the escalation of the situation in Gaza and called for an immediate halt to all violence," said a non-binding statement read out by council president Neven Jurica, Croatia's ambassador to the world body.

"The members called on the parties to stop immediately all military activities."

Diplomats said the Security Council meeting had been requested by Libya, the only Arab country on the council.

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