Ban calls on Israel, Palestinians to help truce efforts

UNITED NATIONS (AFP) - United Nations (UN) leader Ban Ki Moon on Sunday called on Israel and Hamas to work with Egypt to reach a ceasefire in their mounting conflict.

Mr Ban said in a statement he was heading for the region to support ceasefire efforts but his office did not say whether he had left or what his itinerary would be.

The UN secretary general said he was "deeply saddened" by reports that up to 10 members of one Palestinian family had died in one Israeli air strike on Gaza and "alarmed" by the firing of rockets from Gaza into Israel.

"This must stop. I strongly urge the parties to cooperate with all efforts led by Egypt to reach an immediate ceasefire. Any further escalation will inevitably increase the suffering of the affected civilian populations and must be avoided," Mr Ban said.

With another 23 Palestinians killed on Sunday in Israeli air strikes on Gaza, Egypt was at the centre of efforts to broker a truce, and Palestinian officials said a deal could be reached by Monday.

"I am heading to the region to appeal personally for ending the violence and contribute to ongoing efforts to that end," Mr Ban said.

While the United Nations has not given Mr Ban's itinerary, Israeli media has said that he will go to Jerusalem while Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas said Mr Ban would also go to the Palestinian territories.

Since the latest Israeli air strikes started on Wednesday, at least 69 Palestinians have been killed and more than 600 injured. Three Israelis have been killed and more than 50 injured by rocket fire from Gaza.