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More than 600 dead, but UN chief 'hopes' fighting in Gaza will stop soon

The UN Secretary General has said it is his "hope and belief" that his emergency mission to the Middle East will lead to an end to the fighting between Hamas and Israel "in the very near future".

Ban Ki-moon told the Security Council by video conference from the West Bank city of Ramallah that he could not publicly reveal details "at this highly sensitive moment".

As he started to address the council, a siren could be heard in the background.

The UN chief has also visited Qatar, Kuwait, Cairo and Jerusalem and said he will go on to Jordan and Saudi Arabia on what he called his mission "of solidarity and peace."

In the last three days he has met with the head of the Arab League and Arab, Palestinian and Israeli leaders as well as US Secretary of State John Kerry and Norway's foreign minister. He also spoke to French president Francois Hollande.

"Suffice it to say, it is my hope and belief that these talks will lead to results and an end to the fighting in the very near future," Ban said.

However, Israel pounded targets across the Gaza Strip yesterday, saying no ceasefire was near as US and UN diplomats pursued talks on halting fighting that has claimed more than 600 lives.

"There is literally no safe place for civilians," Jens Laerke, spokesman of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), told a news briefing in Geneva.


The death toll is rising in the coastal enclave which has an estimated 4,500 people per square kilometre, he said.

The priority for aid agencies was 
protecting civilians and evacuating
and treating the wounded. Nearly 500 homes have been destroyed by Israeli air strikes and 100,000 people have sought shelter in schools of the UN Relief and 
Works Agency (UNRWA), where they need food, water and mattresses, said Mr Laerke.

"This number continues to increase by the hour," UNRWA said in a statement yesterday, raising its emergency funding appeal to $115m (€85m) from $60m.

Israel began air strikes on the coastal strip on July 8, saying it wanted to halt missile fire out of Gaza by Hamas militants, and launched a ground offensive last Thursday.

Twenty-nine Israelis, 27 of them soldiers, have died.

But the overwhelming majority of people who have been killed so far in the conflict are Palestinians, including 121 Gaza children under 18, Juliette Touma of the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) said.

More than 900 Palestinian children are also reported to have been injured, according to UNICEF.

More than 1.2 million of the 1.8 million people in the enclave have no water or only limited access to water as power networks have been damaged or lack fuel for generators

The UN's World Food Programme (WFP) has distributed emergency food rations and food vouchers to more than 90,000 people so far, spokeswoman Elisabeth Byrs said.

"Ready-to-eat food stocks are running low in Gaza given the conflict has lasted two weeks and the needs are increasing," she said.