U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for restraint and an end to the new wave of Israeli-Palestinian violence in a blitz of phone calls Wednesday to their leaders and key players in the region, warning that the situation raises the risk of another full-blown war.
The U.N. chief said he also urged the Egyptian president, the rulers of Qatar and Saudi Arabia, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and others to press the Israelis and Palestinians to return to their November 2012 cease-fire agreement and resume peace negotiations.
Ban was scheduled to address an emergency Security Council meeting on the crisis Thursday.
He said Egypt's President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi and the emir of Qatar assured him they had urged restraint and were working for a cease-fire. He said he discussed with Kerry "what is necessary to do" to restore calm as soon as possible.
"Gaza is on a knife-edge," Ban said at a news conference. "The deteriorating situation is leading to a downward spiral which could quickly get out of control. The risk of violence expanding further still is real."
The U.N. chief said "Gaza, and the region as a whole, cannot afford another full-blown war."
Israel launched the new offensive Tuesday to end rocket fire from Gaza that has reached deeper into the Jewish state and intensified in recent weeks amid tensions over the killing of three Israeli teenagers and the apparent revenge killing of a Palestinian teenager.
The offensive has set off the heaviest fighting between Israel and the Islamic militant group Hamas, which controls Gaza, since an eight-day battle in November 2012. On Wednesday, Israel pummeled scores of targets and killed at least 22 people.
In a letter to the Security Council late Wednesday, the Palestinian U.N. envoy Riyad Mansour said the dead included an elderly man, women and eight children. He accused Israel of perpetrating "war crimes and state terrorism" against "defenceless and unprotected" Palestinian civilians.
While demanding a halt to the rocket attacks against Israel, Ban said he urged Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to "exercise maximum restraint and to respect international obligations to protect civilians."
The U.N. chief said he commended Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas during their phone conversation "for courageously upholding his commitment to security co-ordination" with Israel, stressing that "this is essential to achieving stability on the ground."
"President Abbas remains the best partner for peace," Ban said.
The U.N. chief said his calls to world leaders were continuing.
So far, he said, "the leaders agreed on the urgency of the situation and the imperative to resume meaningful negotiations towards a viable two-state solution."
At Thursday's council meeting, Ban said he will report on his talks with key players and discuss what he expects the council, regional leaders and the broader international community should do to stop the violence and prevent it from spreading.
Palestinian U.N. envoy Riyad Mansour and ambassadors representing Arab, Islamic and non-aligned nations told reporters after meeting the council president that they want immediate council action to end what they say is Israel's "outrageous onslaught" against Palestinians, especially in Gaza.
Israel's U.N. Ambassador Ron Prosor told reporters that Israel offered Hamas a cease-fire "through every possible channel" but it refused. "Hamas dragged us into this conflict," he said.
Saudi Arabia's U.N. Ambassador Abdallah Al-Moualimi, speaking on behalf of the 57-member Organization of Islamic Cooperation, expressed outrage at Israel's "barbaric onslaught" and "disproportionate application of force" which he called "unprecedented in scale and in scope against the Palestinian people."
Mansour, pointing to the escalating death toll of Palestinian civilians, demanded that the council "shoulder its responsibility and stop this aggression against our people."
That will likely prove difficult because of deep divisions in the council — where the U.S. strongly supports Israel — which have blocked any significant action on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.