UNITED NATIONS (AFP) -- UN chief Ban Ki-moon appealed Thursday for a ceasefire between Israel and Palestinian militants, calling on the international community to do everything to halt escalating violence in Gaza.
"It is now more urgent than ever to try to find common ground for a return to calm and a ceasefire understanding," he told an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council in New York.
Ban said Hamas and Islamic Jihad had fired more than 550 rockets and mortars from the Gaza Strip into Israel in the last few days and that Israel had launched more than 500 air strikes on Gaza.
Eighty-eight Palestinians, many of them civilians, are reported to have been killed and 339 injured, with 150 homes destroyed or severely damaged and nearly 900 people displaced, he said.
Ban said all parties, including Palestinian armed groups, must respect international law.
"Once again civilians are paying the price for the continuation of conflict. My paramount concern is the safety and well-being of all civilians no matter where they are," he told the Council.
"Israel has legitimate security concerns but I am also concerned at the many Palestinian deaths and injuries as a result of Israeli operations," he said.
"Today we face the risk of an all-out escalation in Israel and Gaza with the threat of a ground offensive sill palpable and preventable only if Hamas stops rocket firing," Ban said.
The UN secretary general said he had been in contact with Israel and President Mahmoud Abbas, as well as Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Egypt, the Arab League, the United States and the European Union.
"It is clear that the international community must accelerate efforts to achieve an immediate halt to this escalation and reach a durable ceasefire," he said.
Israeli ambassador Ron Prosor played the chilling wail of Israel's air raid warning from his mobile phone and said Hamas was threatening the lives of 3.5 million innocent men, women and children.
"Fifteen seconds that's how much time you have to run for your life," he told the council blaming Hamas for putting the lives of Palestinian as well as Israeli civilians at risk.
While Israel gives innocent Palestinian civilians prior warning of air strikes, Hamas tells them to stand on rooftops to act as human shields, he said.
He called on the world to denounce, dismantle and delegitimize Hamas, which he said was part of the global threat posed by terror groups such as ISIS, Al-Qaeda and Boko Haram.
The European Union and the United States have expressed readiness to work with a new Palestinian unity government that includes Hamas, but Israel has boycotted the administration.
"Condemn Hamas, condemn terrorism and condemn the rocket fire and support Israel's right to defend itself. This is the only way, but the only way to achieve comprehensive peace," he said.
Palestinian ambassador Riyad Mansour accused Israel of starting the violence in Gaza and of working to dismantle the Palestinian consensus government, which took office last month.
"They started the attack against our people in the occupied territory including in Gaza and the rockets started after that," he told reporters after briefing the council.
Mansour said the Palestinians would honor any ceasefire in Gaza but said "it is obvious that the Israeli side are not interested in a ceasefire and stopping the rockets."
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly told a parliamentary committee earlier Thursday that a ceasefire with Hamas was "not even on the agenda."
"The Palestinian people are united behind this national consensus government... and we will prevail in this battle and we hope the Security Council can act in accordance with its responsibilities," Mansour said.