U.N. Calls on Israel, Palestinians to End Violence

The U.N. Security Council early Sunday expressed serious concern at the escalating situation in Gaza and called on Israel and the Palestinians to immediately halt all violence.

Libya, on behalf of Arab nations, called the late night council meeting after Israeli warplanes rained more than 100 tons of bombs on security sites in Gaza on Saturday and early Sunday, killing at least 230 people. Israel said the bombardment — one of the Mideast's bloodiest assaults in decades — was aimed at stopping rocket attacks from Gaza that have traumatized southern Israel.

The statement issued by the council after more than four hours of emergency consultations behind closed doors made no reference to either the Israeli bombings or the rocket attacks by Hamas militants.

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

The council also stressed the need for the restoration of "calm in full" — diplomatic language for the cease-fire between Israel and Gaza's Islamic Hamas rulers that ended last week. It said a new cease-fire would open the way for a political solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Without mentioning Israel by name, council members also called for the parties "to address the serious humanitarian and economic needs in Gaza," including by opening border crossings, to ensure a continuous supply of food and fuel as well as medical treatment.

Israel has maintained a strict blockade of Gaza since the rocket fire resumed more than six weeks ago, allowing only small quantities of essential goods and fuel into the Palestinian territory.

Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian U.N. observer, said the Palestinians and their international supporters would return to the Security Council if Israel did not stop the attacks.

"We will be waiting tomorrow to see if Israel (is going) to comply with the position of the Security Council — to stop their aggression and attacks by honoring and respecting the cease-fire call," said Mansour. "We hope that that will be the case."

Israel's U.N. Ambassador Gabriela Shalev said Israel had "no choice but to go on a military operation" in the face of rocket attacks, and said only Hamas was to blame.

"Israel wants peace," Shalev said. "We wait and see if the Hamas is really going to abide by the ... statement of the Security Council, and we'll draw the conclusions."

U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, Israel's closest ally on the Security Council, urged all parties to end violence and address the humanitarian needs of the people of Gaza.

"We believe the way forward from here is for rocket attacks against Israel to stop, for all violence to end," Khalilzad said.

He said the long-term answer was to create a Palestinian state living side by side in peace with Israel.

The final text of the statement, drafted by Russia, dropped initial references to numerous Palestinian deaths, including among civilians. The statement reflects the views of the U.N.'s most powerful body.

Russia's U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said the council had sent a message to try to stop the situation from "slipping into the vicious circle of violence once again."