French Foreign Minister heads to Israel to obtain "ceasefire"

PARIS (AFP) - French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius left Paris on Sunday for Israel "to call on all the parties to stop the escalation and offer France's help to reach an immediate ceasefire", his ministry said.

During his one-day trip, the minister will meet with the Israeli authorities and Palestinian Authority president Mahmud Abbas, his ministry said in a statement.

"This visit prepared in coordination with our principal regional and international partners, will be the occasion for talks" with President Shimon Peres, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, his ministry said.

The visit had been announced from Israel.

Mr Fabius will travel to Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, and will visit Ramallah, in the West Bank, to meet Mr Abbas, Palestinian and French officials said.

Fresh Israeli air strikes hit a Gaza City media centre and homes in northern Gaza early Sunday as the death toll mounted, despite suggestions from Egypt's President Mohamed Mursi that there could be a "ceasefire soon".

Israel launched a ferocious air operation against the Gaza Strip on Wednesday in retaliation for Hamas rocket attacks. So far at least 48 Palestinians and three Israelis have died, with hundreds wounded.

Late Friday, the military sealed off all main roads around Gaza, the latest sign it was poised to launch its first ground offensive on the territory since its 22-day campaign over New Year 2009.