UN chief demands immediate Gaza cease-fire

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon demanded an immediate cease-fire in Gaza and urged Mideast and world leaders to do more to help end the Israeli-Hamas conflict and promote political dialogue.

Ban on Monday urged Arab foreign ministers, who are holding an emergency meeting in Cairo on Wednesday 'to act swiftly and decisively to bring an early end to this impasse.' The bombings have killed at least 360 people — including 62 women and children, according to the U.N. — and wounded some 1,400 others.

'I think regional and international partners have not done enough,' the United Nations chief said on the third day of an Israeli bombardment of Gaza. 'At the same time, other world leaders must also step up efforts to support a longer term resolution of the issue.'

Egypt's U.N. Ambassador Maged Abdelaziz said he was sure there would be swift and decisive action on the part of the Arab League.

'So the Arab side is going to do whatever it takes to ensure that if there is a new agreement to come, after we reach the cease-fire, that this is ... going to be the basis of further actions to be taken into the political process.'

While Abdelaziz and the Palestinian U.N. observer, Riyad Mansur, seemed to be looking forward to a renewal of the cease-fire, Israel's Ambassador Gabriela Shalev said the attacks would continue 'as long as it takes to dismantle Hamas completely.'

'We need and want the understanding, the support of the international community,' Shalev said in an interview Monday with The Associated Press. 'But first of all, we have the right to defend ourselves and we have the duty to protect our citizens. This comes before the understanding, which we hope to receive, of the international community.'

Israeli warplanes have rained tons of bombs on Gaza, targeting Hamas-related installations and homes in an attempt to stop Hamas rocket attacks from Gaza that have traumatized southern Israel. The bombardment has been one of the Mideast's bloodiest assaults in decades.

On Monday, Ban said Israel's leaders gave him 'a guarantee' that humanitarian supplies and aid workers would be allowed into Gaza but he said he hasn't gotten a guarantee from Israel to stop the bombings.

'I have been urging to Israeli prime minister and foreign minister, and I still may have to work more on this,' he said. 'I'm mobilizing all possible influence and leadership in the region and I have been working day and night on this matter.'

The U.N. Security Council issued a statement early Sunday expressing serious concern at the escalating situation in Gaza and calling on Israel and the Palestinians to immediately halt all violence. While not legally binding, its unanimous adoption was a reflection of world opinion.

On Monday, Ban again condemned 'the excessive use of force by Israel,' expressing profound sadness at the suffering to civilians, especially children, and demanding that both side 'halt their acts of violence and take all necessary measures to avoid civilian casualties.'

'A cease-fire must be declared immediately,' he said. 'They must also curb their inflammatory rhetoric. Only then can dialogue start.'

Mansour, the Palestinian U.N. observer, said he urged the Security Council president on Monday to get council members — who include the world's major powers — to use their political weight to achieve a cease-fire.

He said he told the current council president, Croatia's U.N. Ambassador Neven Jurica: 'We need you to use your might, to use your power, to use this position in order to bring Israel into compliance ... with the wish of the Security Council, with the position of the secretary-general, with the entire position of the international community.'

'We hope in the next 24 hours ... that this position be turned into reality and Israel to listen, and not to behave above international law,' Mansour said.

'I am confident if this is to be stopped, then there will be not firing of anything from the Palestinian side,' he said.

----- Associated Press Writers Michael Astor at the United Nations and Josef Federman in New York contributed to this report.