United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon Tuesday called for an immediate ceasefire by "all sides" involved in the violence in Gaza, saying in Cairo that peace and security for both Israelis and Palestinians could not be achieved through more bloodshed.
The UN chief echoed previous statements in saying that rocket fire from Gaza into Israel was "unacceptable," while also noting that an Israeli ground invasion of the Palestinian enclave would mark a "dangerous escalation" that must be avoided.
Ban delivered his comments at a pair of news conferences in the Egyptian capital of Cairo, following separate meetings there with the Secretary-General of the League of Arab States, Nabil Elaraby, and the Egyptian Prime Minister, Hisham Mohamed Qandil.
He spoke as media reports, citing Egyptian and Palestinian officials, said a ceasefire in the conflict was "imminent," and that Israel had put its plans for a land invasion on hold, though it had made no official comment.
Ban is currently in Israel to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other Israeli leaders.
"My message is clear: all sides must stop fire," Ban said during his press conference with Qandil. "Further escalating the situation will only result in more tragedy, and puts the entire region at risk. That is why a ground operation must be avoided. That is why it is urgent to contain the present crisis."
In Geneva, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, added her concerns about Palestinian and Israeli civilians caught up in the ongoing crisis, which has seen continued rocket attacks against Israel from Gaza and Israeli airstrikes on targets in the territory.
"She is dismayed by the marked surge in the number of Palestinian civilians, including women and children, killed and injured over the past 48 hours as a result of Israeli military action," said a spokesperson for Pillay, according to a press release from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Right (OHCHR).
"According to information gathered by OHCHR monitors on the ground, the civilian death toll has more than doubled during this period," the spokesperson added, noting that available information on Tuesday morning showed that at least 57 civilians, including 18 children, had been killed, and hundreds injured since Israel launched its military operation on Nov 14.
At his joint press encounter with Elaraby, the UN chief said he and his Arab League counterpart shared a "deep concern" about the "appalling rising cost in human lives."
"A new cycle of bloodshed will make neither Israelis nor Palestinians more secure," Ban told reporters.
"Nor will bloodshed open the door to negotiations that could achieve the two-state solution necessary to end the occupation and such violence permanently," he added, citing an end goal that would see Israel and an independent Palestinian exist peacefully side by side.
Ban said that when he meets with Israeli leaders, he will "firmly reiterate that Israel must respect its obligations under international law, including international humanitarian law."
While he also highlighted that Israel had "legitimate security concerns that must be respected in accordance with international law," he added that a "ground invasion would be a dangerous escalation."
Ban is also scheduled to travel to Ramallah in the West Bank to meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. He said the Palestinian leader's efforts at finding a "long-overdue two-state solution" were now "more crucial than ever."
Gaza is run by the Palestinian group Hamas, which seized control of the territory a year after winning elections there in 2007.
"I am deeply worried that efforts to facilitate renewed negotiations to achieve a two-state solution have failed to produce a breakthrough," the Secretary-General said about the stalled Middle East peace process in his news conference with Qandil. "Yet, the present crisis proves again that the status quo is unsustainable and that a negotiated two-state solution ending a prolonged occupation is more urgent than ever."
In addition, Ban recalled travelling to the region under "similar circumstances" in early 2009, after Israeli forces entered Gaza amid rocket attacks from the enclave into Israel. "It is extremely painful for me to be back for the same reason, for the same situation, and to see that the parties are no closer to ending their hostilities," he said.