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UN 'gravely concerned' by Israel, Gaza violence

March 12, 2012 4:35 P.M. (Updated: March 14, 2012 10:00 A.M.)
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) -- United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said on Monday he was extremely worried by a recent flare-up in violence between Israel and Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.

"I am gravely concerned at the latest escalation between Gaza and Israel and once again civilians are paying a terrible price," Ban told the UN Security Council. He said rocket attacks on Israeli civilians were "unacceptable" and urged Israel to "exercise maximum restraint."

Israel has killed 23 Palestinians and injured at least 80 in a series of airstrikes on the Gaza Strip since Friday. Militants have responded with a volley of rockets into southern Israel, causing no casualties and injuring four.

Gaza's Hamas leadership, whose own cadres have kept out of the fighting, said on Sunday neighboring Egypt was working to stop the violence and was consulting with other militants.

A Palestinian official close to the mediation told Reuters Israel had agreed to a midnight ceasefire.

But Islamic Jihad insisted that any truce include an undertaking by Israel "to end assassinations".

Israel signaled no end to what it calls "preventive targeting" operations.

"If the Qassam (rocket) fire ends, the Israel Defense Forces will not continue (strikes), but the Israel Defense Forces will continue thwarting any attempted terrorist attacks," military spokesman Brigadier-General Yoav Mordechai told Israel Radio.

He confirmed there had been contact with Egyptian mediators.

Israeli Interior Minister Eli Yishai told Army Radio: "Israel is not keen to see an escalation, Israel is not keen to hurt innocents, Israel is absolutely opposed to this.

"For now, it (fighting) is on this kind of scale. But if it will prove protracted, then without a doubt there will be a powerful, painful blow so that this will not continue."

The violence has raised international concern.

France called for "an instant return to calm and restraint in order to avoid an escalation which would risk once again harming civilians". Russia urged an end to the fighting and said "the use of any violence from which the civilian population suffers is totally unacceptable".
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