UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has called for a unilateral cease-fire between Israel and Gaza to avoid plunging the region into chaos. The call came as foreign leaders met with both sides to broker a truce.
Speaking at a press conference in Cairo, the UN chief moved beyond the rhetoric heard from Western leaders in recent days - namely, that Israel has the right to defend itself - to emphasize the urgency of reaching a truce.
"My message is clear," said Ban, who had met with Arab League chief Nabil Elaraby prior the press conference. "All sides must halt fire immediately. Further escalating the situation will put the entire region at risk."
Tuesday's plea from the UN chief, who met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu later in the day, came amid international worry that the Israeli government would begin a ground invasion of the Gaza Strip on Tuesday.
"We all must recognise that Israel has legitimate security concerns that must be respected in accordance with international law, but a ground operation would be a dangerous escalation," he said.
On Tuesday, airstrikes into Gaza killed at least 21 people. Two Israelis were also killed by a rocket originating from the occupied territory. The strikes follow what was the bloodiest day yet during the conflict, when over 30 people were killed on Monday in the Gaza.
Since last week, Israel and militants in the Gaza Strip have exchanged fire on a daily basis, leading to massive destruction in the Palestinian enclave and a death toll of more 130 people, including women and children. Five Israelis have died in the violence and Israeli cities have sustained comparatively minimal damage.
International community weighs in
Meanwhile, other countries continued voicing their concerns over the escalating conflict.
In Jerusalem, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle extended his support to Israel, while also calling on Egypt to use its influence in the region to broker a truce.
Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi has regularly spoken with the international community and also called a session of Arab League leaders over the weekend in Cairo. A delegation of Arab foreign ministers designated at the weekend meeting are scheduled to visit the Gaza Strip on Tuesday as a sign of solidarity with Palestinians.
In addition to the other foreign envoys, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton traveled to Israel Tuesday evening for talks with Netanyahu, and will also visit Egypt and Ramallah to help further truce efforts.
Israel bombed dozens of targets in the Gaza Strip Monday, but announced that, though the country is prepared to send in ground troops, the preference is for a diplomatic solution that would end Palestinian rocket fire.
Although 84 percent of Israelis support the Gaza assault, according to a poll by Haaretz, only 30 percent want a ground invasion.
kms/mz (AFP, Reuters, dpa)