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EU officials say long-term solution needed in the Gaza-Israel conflict

The European Union's foreign policy chief is expressing concern about the mounting death toll in the Gaza conflict, saying the crisis can only be resolved with a long-term solution.

Speaking at the start of a meeting of EU foreign and defense ministers in Brussels on Monday, Catherine Ashton said rocket attacks from Gaza into Israel must stop.

"What we have to do is to find ... a solution that brings security to the region," Ashton said.

Israeli forces are attacking Gaza in an effort to stop the militant rocket fire, and scores of Palestinians and three Israeli civilians have been killed in the conflict.

Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt said the most important thing was to arrange an immediate cease-fire.

"Then, we must look at the wider and deeper issues," he said. "This is the second Gaza war in a few years. We can't wait for the third and fourth."

The EU ministers also are scheduled to discuss how to deal with Syria's new opposition coalition, which France has recognized. Other EU members prefer to wait and see whether the coalition truly represents the variety of people that make up Syria before recognizing it.

Ashton said none of the ministers has proposed that the EU should recognize the new coalition. However, British Foreign Secretary William Hague hinted that he would ask his parliament later this week to recognize it.

"I hope this meeting here today will give a boost to that opposition, to the coalition, and will appreciate that they have made a big step forward," Hague said on his way into the meeting in Brussels. "I will speak about the question of recognition when I talk to the House of Commons later this week."

Ministers also are scheduled to discuss how to provide military assistance to the West African force that is scheduled to help Mali's tenuous government wrest control of the country's vast north that was seized by al-Qaida-linked fighters more than six months ago.

Ecowas, the Economic Community of West African States, has agreed to send about 3,300 troops to reinforce the 5,000 Malian government troops. The U.S. and EU could provide logistics and air support for the operation.

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Don Melvin contributed to this report.