United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon on Tuesday urged all sides to the Gaza conflict to immediately cease their fire, warning at a press conference in Cairo that an escalation would put the entire region at risk.
“All sides must halt fire immediately,” Ban said, as an Israeli military operation against rocket-firing militants in Gaza entered a sixth day, with 109 Palestinians and three Israelis killed.
“Further escalating the situation will put the entire region at risk,” he added, sitting alongside Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi after the two had held what Ban described as a “very constructive meeting.”
“I’m visiting the region because of the alarming situation in Gaza,” the U.N. secretary general said. “I’m here to appeal personally for an end to the violence.”
He and Arabi, he said, “share a deep concern about the appalling rising cost in human lives” in Gaza.
An Israeli ground offensive in Gaza, Ban said, “would only result in further tragedy.”
“Once again families and children are dying as a result of senseless violence,” said Ban, who arrived in Cairo on Monday to bolster Egypt-brokered efforts for a ceasefire in Gaza.
The U.N. chief was later Tuesday to fly to Israel for meetings with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas.
Egyptian mediators have been hosting marathon indirect talks between a Hamas team led by Khaled Meshaal and an Israeli envoy, which an Egyptian official said had produced “encouraging signs” on ending the crisis.
“The secretary general wishes to add his diplomatic weight to these efforts, which are considerable and extremely important,” U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky told reporters from Cairo on Ban’s arrival.
Senior Israeli ministers decided overnight to hold off from launching a ground invasion of the Gaza Strip to give Egyptian-led truce efforts a chance to work, a senior Israeli official said Tuesday.
“A decision was taken that for the time being there is a temporary hold on the ground incursion to give diplomacy a chance to succeed,” he told AFP news agency.
Nevertheless, Palestinian rocket fire and Israeli air strikes continued for a seventh day.
Hamas militants said they fired 16 missiles at the southern Israeli city of Beersheba after Israel's military targeted roughly 100 sites in Gaza overnight, including ammunition stores and the Gaza headquarters of the National Islamic Bank.
Some 110 Palestinians have died in a week of fighting, the majority of them civilians, including 27 children. Three Israelis died last week when a Gaza missile struck their house.
Three Palestinians were killed in two separate strikes in Gaza on Tuesday morning, after a night of relative quiet, the ambulance services spokesman said.
"Two citizens were martyred in two raids in the Mughraqa area, in southern Gaza City, and a third was killed in Beit Lahiya," Adham Abu Selmiya said.
The latest deaths pushed the Palestinian death toll to 112, with number of injuries over 920, and came after a night of relative calm -- the first to see no fatalities since the Israeli air campaign began nearly a week ago.
The Israeli military said it attacked about 100 targets in the coastal strip during the night, using aircraft, warships and artillery.
The Palestinian interior ministry and witnesses also told AFP that strikes hit the homes of several militant leaders, including Raed Aatar, a senior commander in Hamas's armed wing, the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades.
The home of Abu Anza, a Qassam official in Khan Yunis, was also bombed, along with Islamic Jihad offices in the same southern Gaza town.
An army spokeswoman told AFP that at least three rockets hit southern Israel overnight, and two more were intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defence system.
U.S. President Barack Obama is sending Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to the Middle East for talks with Israeli, Palestinian and Egyptian leaders to seek a de-escalation of the violence in Gaza, the White House said on Tuesday.
White House deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes told reporters in Cambodia that Clinton would leave for the region later on Tuesday. Clinton and Obama are attending a summit in Phnom Penh.
Clinton will meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem and with Palestinian Authority leaders in Ramallah, Rhodes said. She will later travel to Cairo.
Rhodes said the message of her trip will be that it is in nobody's interest for there to be an escalation of military conflict in Gaza.