As the humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip worsens, international leaders, chief among them the Europeans, have issued a near unanimous condemnation of Israel's invasion of the Gaza Strip.
Smoke rises above Gaza during the Israeli offensive
UN chief Ban Ki-moon Saturday urged an immediate end to Israel's ground offensive in the Gaza Strip, his press office said just ahead of an emergency Security Council session on the conflict late Saturday.
Ban "called for an immediate end to the ground operation, and asked that Israel do all possible to ensure the protection of civilians and that humanitarian assistance is able to reach those in need," his office said in a statement.
Air raids continue to strike the Gaza Strip
The secretary general spoke earlier in the day with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and "conveyed his extreme concern and disappointment," said the statement, which was issued just before the Security Council convened.
Israel moved tanks and troops into the Hamas-run territory Jan. 3, on the eighth day of an air assault aimed at stopping militant rocket and mortar fire into Israel. Some 460 people have been killed and thousands wounded in the operation.
"The Secretary-General reiterates his call for an immediate cessation of all violence, and urges regional and international partners to exert all possible influence to bring about an immediate end to the bloodshed and suffering," the statement said.
World leaders call for halt to violence
Protesters in Madrid rally against Israel with banners reading "Justice for Palestine"
Ahead of the meeting, several European and international leaders voiced their condemnation of Israel's ground operation and stressed the need for more diplomacy.
The French Foreign Ministry said the latest phase of violence is a "dangerous military escalation" that complicates efforts by the international community to end the fighting, bring immediate aid to civilians and reach a permanent ceasefire. "France condemns the Israeli ground offensive against Gaza as it condemns the continuation of rocket firing."
The British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said "unfolding events show the urgent need for the immediate ceasefire that we have called for."
Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos, a former European Union Middle East envoy urged Hamas to stop launching rockets and Israel to end its ground operation. The Spanish government said it was "deeply concerned" by the current situation in the Gaza Strip and has asked both sides to "heed the calls of the international community and end the clashes."
Germany called on Muslim nations to use their influence to help secure an end to Hamas militants' rocket attacks on Israel. A Foreign Ministry statement Saturday said Frank-Walter Steinmeier spoke with his Turkish counterpart before a meeting in Saudi Arabia with ministers from the 57-member Organization of the Islamic Conference and said Hamas must end its rocket fire in order to clear the path for a ceasefire.
The Foreign Minister reiterated his support for a "humanitarian cease-fire" that would make it easier to get supplies to Gaza's civilians and open the way for diplomacy.
While the US White House said it was "deeply concerned about the humanitarian situation and the protection of innocents," it defended its ally's right to defend itself from militant attacks and placed the onous on Hamas.
"In this vein, we have expressed our concerns to the Israeli government that any military action needs to be mindful of the potential consequences to civilians," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said.
The Bush administration has accused Hamas, which seized power of Gaza in 2007, of using the densely populated territory as a launching pad for rockets against Israeli cities.