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Germany

UN Head Calls for End to Gaza Violence as Israel Keeps Bombing

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has urged an immediate end to hostilities in the Gaza Strip as Israel's air force continued its heavy bombardment of the region Monday morning.

An Israeli soldier in front of a tank

Israel has moved tanks closer to the Gaza strip

Ban "joins the Security Council's call for an immediate stop to all violence and all military activities," his spokeswoman Michele Montas said in a statement Sunday. He deplores that violence is continuing today, and he strongly urges once again an immediate stop to all acts of violence."

Montas said the UN humanitarian coordinator in Gaza received a guarantee from Israeli officials on Sunday that "all required humanitarian supplies and personnel" would be allowed into Gaza.

Ban Ki-moon

Ban Ki-moon has called for an immediate end to the violence

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

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak on Sunday authorized the transfer of more than 100 truckloads of aid into Gaza.

More than 100 trucks will transfer the goods on Monday through the Karni, Nahal Oz and Kerem Shalom crossings between Israel and the territory ruled by the Islamist movement Hamas, Barak's office said.

The 15-member UN Security Council on Sunday issued a non-binding statement calling for "an immediate halt to all violence" in the Gaza Strip and urged the parties "to stop immediately all military activities."

Massive air raids

The statement followed massive Israeli air raids on Gaza on Saturday and Sunday, in retaliation for Palestinian militants' repeated rocket attacks on Israel. The Israeli attacks have so far killed more than 300 people and wounded some 600, medics said.

The Israel Air Force bombed Gaza again Monday morning, hitting 40 targets of the Islamic Hamas movement that rules the area, an Israeli army spokesman said.

One of the targets struck by Israeli bombs early Monday was a building of the Islamic University in Gaza and a guesthouse of the de facto Hamas government. A building near the residence of Hamas leader Ismail Haniya was also reported hit.

Israeli media reported Monday, quoting Palestinian sources, that an Israeli soldier held captive in Gaza by Hamas for more than two years, Gilad Shalit, was also injured in one of the attacks.

"Gilad Shalit is an asset for Hamas and the organization will do everything to keep him alive," said an Israeli security official who spoke on condition of anonymity. "Israel holds Hamas responsible for his well-being."

Fears of an Israeli ground offensive

Palestinians carry the body of a Palestinian killed in an Israeli missile strike in Rafah, southern Gaza Strip

The high numbers of casualties made Saturday the single deadliest day in the Gaza Strip since Israel's occupation of the territory in 1967

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's cabinet has approved a call-up of 6,500 reservists and there are reports of Israeli tanks deploying on the edge of the Gaza Strip in preparation for a possible ground incursion into the enclave.

"I fear that a possible Israeli ground offensive in the Gaza strip will have repercussions for other regions in the Middle East," German politician Ruprecht Polenz, a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Party (CDU) told the Rheinische Post in an interview to be published Monday.

In light of the latest escalation of violence, Polenz said he feared a "dangerous development that could easily turn into a conflagration."

German politicians have expressed sympathy for Israel which has been under regular rocket fire attack from the Gaza strip ever since Hamas announced the end of a ceasefire a week ago. But Israel has to do more to ease tough living conditions in Gaza and avoid civilian casualties, they say.

No country in the world would accept daily rocket attacks on its citizens, Polenz said, adding that Israel had not managed to send clear signals to the West Bank that the Palestinians had much to gain if they cooperated with Israel rather than backing violence.

Politician urges Obama to tackle Mideast conflict

Symbolbild Obama Iran Irak Israel Nahost

Obama this year voiced strong support for Israel

Polenz, who is also the chairman of the foreign affairs committee of the German parliament called on US President-elect Barack Obama to place the Middle East high on his agenda when he takes office on Jan. 20.

"Obama can't allow himself to repeat the mistakes of his predecessors Bush and Clinton who both paid attention to Israel and Palestine only towards the end of their respective terms," Polenz said.

US President-elect Barack Obama is reported to have been briefed on the weekend by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice about the Israeli bombardment of Gaza.

But Obama gave no hint of future US policy on the Mideast conflict. His national security spokeswoman, Brooke Anderson said Obama would make no comment, saying he was sticking to the formula that there should be "one president at a time."

"New spiral of despair"

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

An injured Palestinian is helped from the rubble following an Israeli air strike in Rafah

The latest violence has stoked fears in the European Union, one of Israel's most important foreign partners as well as the largest donor of aid to the Palestinian territories, that the region may slide into instability.

EU High Representative Javier Solana on Saturday condemned as "unacceptable" the death of Palestinian civilians in the Israeli air strikes and called for an immediate end to the violence.

France, which hold the EU's rotating presidency until the end of the year, is working to get both sides back to the negotiating table.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said in an interview that he is rallying European nations to use "all their weight" to stop fighting between Israel and Hamas.

"We have entered a new spiral of despair," Kouchner was quoted in the Journal du Dimanche as saying. "The truce must be restored."

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