TEL AVIV: UN chief Ban Ki-moon on Tuesday urged Israel and the Palestinians to stop the bloodshed in Gaza as he sought to broker an end to a fortnight of deadly violence.
Speaking at a news conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after arriving in Tel Aviv, Ban described Hamas rocket fire on Israel as "shocking," saying it must "stop immediately".
"My message to Israelis and Palestinians is the same: Stop fighting, start talking and take on the root causes of the conflict so that we are not at the same situation in the next six months or a year," he said.
The secretary-general said he had seen photographic and video evidence of Palestinian rocket fire on Israel, describing it as "quite shocking" and saying all countries had an "international obligation to protect" their citizens.
"The UN position is clear: we condemn strongly rocket attacks. These must stop immediately," he said.
But Israel must exercise "maximum restraint," Ban said as the body count in Gaza soared over 600, with majority of the victims women and children.
And he urged the Jewish state to take a hard look at some of the root causes of the violence.
"We must address the underlying issues including mutual recognition, occupation, despair and denial of dignity so people will not feel they have to resort to violence as a means of expressing their grievances," he said.
Netanyahu said the world must hold Hamas responsible for starting the violence and for rejecting an Egyptian ceasefire initiative laid out last week.
"The international community must take a clear stance, it must hold Hamas accountable for consistently rejecting these ceasefire proposals and for starting and prolonging this conflict," Netanyahu said.
Hamas was not only guilty of attacking Israeli civilians but also of "using Palestinian civilians as human shields, deliberately putting them in harm's way".
"They are committing a double war crime: both targeting our civilians and hiding behind their civilians," said Netanyahu.
"The people of Gaza are the victims of the brutal Hamas regime. They are holding them hostage and hiding behind them."
Hamas said it rejected last week's Egyptian-brokered truce because it had been excluded from discussions and did not receive any official proposal.
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