WASHINGTON – The UN Security Council called early on Sunday for an immediate halt to all violence in Gaza after a day of Israeli air strikes in response to rocket and mortar fire by Gaza militants against Israel.
"The members of the Security Council expressed serious concern at the escalation of the situation in Gaza and called for an immediate halt to all violence," said a statement read to reporters by Croatian Ambassador Neven Jurica, president of the council.
"The members called on the parties to stop immediately all military activities."
The decision to hold the meeting followed heavy pressure by the envoys of several Arab countries led by Libya, the Arab representative on the Council.
The statement, agreed upon after four hours of closed-door council discussions, called on all parties to address "the serious humanitarian and economic needs in Gaza."
It urged them to take necessary measures, including the opening of border crossings, to ensure Gaza's people were supplied with food, fuel and medical treatment.
Council members "stressed the need for the restoration of calm in full" to open the way for a Palestinian-Israeli political solution.
Prior to the meeting Israel's Ambassador to the UN Prof. Gabriela Shalev sent a message to the Security Council's members in which she explains that the Israeli operation was carried out as an act of self-defense.
"Israel is taking the necessary military action in order to protect its citizens from ongoing terrorist attacks originating from the Gaza Strip and carried out by Hamas and other terrorist organizations," Shalev wrote in her letter.
"Israel has exhausted all means and efforts to reach and maintain quiet and to respect the state of calm," she added. "The state of Israel has thus decided to actively fight terrorism and protect its citizens from further terrorist attacks through a decisive response."
The Israeli ambassador assured the Security Council members that "Israel's response is aimed solely against the terrorists and their infrastructures in the Gaza Strip. It is not intended against the civilian population."
She concluded by stating that "no country would allow continuous rocketing of its civilian population without taking the necessary actions to stop it. Israel expects the understanding and support of the international community to its actions, as it confronts terrorism and advances the interest of all those who wish that peace and coexistence will prevail in our region."
On Saturday, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed his deep concern over the violence in Gaza and appealed for an immediate halt to all violence.
In a statement released by the UN chief, Ban said that while he recognized "Israel's security concerns regarding the continued firing of rockets from Gaza," he firmly reiterates "Israel's obligation to uphold international humanitarian and human rights law and condemns excessive use of force leading to the killing and injuring of civilians.
"He condemns the ongoing rocket attacks by Palestinian militants and is deeply distressed that repeated calls on Hamas for these attacks to end have gone unheeded."
Reuters contributed to this report