U.S. calls for end to continued violence, return to peace talks
Rice to visit region, Abbas urges pressure on Israel; Turkey, EU, UN slam 'disproportionate' force in Gaza.
The United States called on Sunday for an end to clashes between Israel and the Palestinians and a resumption of peace negotiations after Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas suspended talks with Israel.
"The violence needs to stop and the talks need to resume," White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said.
Meanwhile, a State Department spokesman said Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has no plans to call off a meeting this week with Abbas and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. Earlier, Abbas spoke to Rice and urged her to pressure Israel to stop the violence.
"[Rice's] plans remain intact," department spokesman Rob McInturff said, adding: "We're encouraging Israel to exercise caution to avoid the loss of innocent life."
The U.S. statement was one a of a growing number of international voices calling on Israel to cease its attacks on the Gaza Strip.
The European Union and Turkey on Sunday joined the United Nations in condemning what it calls the "disproportionate" use of force by the Israel Defense Forces in Gaza after more than 60 Palestinians were killed in the highest single day toll since fighting erupted in 2000.
In a statement, the EU urged Israel to halt activities that endanger civilians saying they were contrary to international law.
It also called for an immediate end to Palestinian rocket attacks on Israeli territory and insisted that the peace process should not be interrupted.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the attacks are killing children and civilians and that the attacks can have no humanitarian justification.
Turkey is Israel's closest ally in the Muslim world and has offered to mediate for Middle East peace. But Erdogan said Sunday that Israel was rejecting a diplomatic solution to the dispute.
Earlier, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon issued a similar condemnation of he termed Israel's "excessive and disproportionate" response to Palestinian rocket fire, while also denouncing the ongoing rocket attacks on Israeli towns and cities.
The government of Mauritania, one of the only Arab League nations to have diplomatic ties with Israel, called on Israel to stop the "bloodbath" in Gaza, and thousands of protesters took to the streets Sunday.
Mauritania is one of only three Arab League nations to allow an Israeli Embassy on its soil, an acknowledgment of Israel that many Mauritanians have taken exception to. Last month, gunmen affiliated with al-Qaida opened fire on the embassy here, injuring three people.
In a statement, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it was extremely concerned by Israel's successive raids in Gaza, calling it a collective punishment for the Palestinian people. Mauritania, the statement said, is "Calling on Israel as well as the international community to stop the bloodbath in Gaza."
UN expresses 'deep concern' over Gaza violence
Ban spoke at an emergency Security Council session on the escalation of violence in Gaza, where the body expressed "deep concern" over the fighting.
Security Council member Libya called the session on behalf of the Arab League, and at the request of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Ban also condemned Palestinian rocket attacks against southern Israel.
"While recognizing Israel's right to defend itself, I condemn the disproportionate and excessive use of force that has killed an injured so many civilians, including children," Ban told the emergency session of the council.
"I call on Israel to cease such attacks," he said.
Ban said there had been 26 Palestinian rocket attacks against Israel on Saturday alone.
"I condemn Palestinian rocket attacks, and call for the immediate cessation of such acts of terrorism, which serve no purpose, endanger Israeli civilians, and bring misery to the Palestinian people," he said.
The permanent Palestinian observer to the United Nations, Riyad Mansour, said Israel's actions, including the closure of all border crossings into Gaza, were war crimes.
"Such actions are clearly prohibited by international law and are being committed by the occupying power on a scale and scope amounting to war crimes," Mansour told the council.
Israel's Deputy Ambassador Daniel Carmon dismissed the idea that the Jewish state was guilty of war crimes.
He said the Palestinian militant group Hamas, which seized control of Gaza in June 2007, was to blame for the situation in Gaza because it was behind the rocket attacks.
"Hamas bears sole responsibility for the violence," Carmon told the council.
The council was to consider a Libyan draft resolution that would condemn Israel for killing Palestinian civilians.
The Libyan draft resolution, has the council "expressing grave concern ... about the killings of innocent civilians, including the killing of several Palestinian children as a result of recent Israeli military attacks in the Gaza Strip."
It also calls for "an immediate cessation of all acts of violence, including military attacks" and urges Israel "to immediately open the Gaza Strip's border crossings."
The draft does not mention the months of daily Palestinian rocket fire against Israel, which Israel has cited as the reason they closed all the border crossings into Gaza in January, allowing only humanitarian aid into the territory.
Western diplomats on the council had no immediate reaction to the Libyan draft proposal, though they said there was a general feeling that the Security Council should say something about the escalation of violence.
"It doesn't have to be a resolution," one diplomat said. "We could just issue a statement."
The council has been deadlocked on the issue of the closure of the border crossings into the Gaza Strip, partly because Libya and other Arab states refuse to condemn the Palestinian militant group Hamas, which seized control of Gaza in June 2007, as the United States has demanded.
Pope appeals for unconditional end to Gaza violence
Pope Benedict on Sunday appealed for an end to the conflict in Gaza, calling on both Israelis and Palestinians to unconditionally halt the violence.
"Only by showing absolute respect for human life, even if it is that of the enemy, can one hope to give a future of peace and coexistence to both of those peoples who have their roots in the Holy Land," he said in his Sunday address.
"I renew my pressing appeal to the authorities, both Israeli and Palestinian, to stop this spiral of violence, unilaterally, unconditionally," he told pilgrims and tourists in St Peter's Square.