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UN Chief Heads To Mideast In Gaza Peace Push

A destroyed house in Gaza City that police said was targeted in an Israeli air strike on July 18.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is heading for the Middle East on July 19 to help mediate the conflict in Gaza between Israel and Hamas.

Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman made the announcement on July 18 at a UN Security Council emergency meeting on the conflict in Gaza.

Feltman said, "Israel has legitimate security concerns, and we condemn the indiscriminate rocket fire from Gaza into Israel that ended yesterday's temporary ceasefire. But we are alarmed by Israel's heavy response."

Feltman told the Council that a cease-fire is "indispensable" for urgently needed humanitarian efforts to succeed.

President Barack Obama on July 18 said he encouraged Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a phone conversation to minimize civilian deaths in its offensive against Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip, while letting him know that the United States supports Israel's right to self defense.

Speaking in Washington, Obama said that the United States is "deeply concerned about the risks of further escalation and the loss of more innocent life" in the Gaza conflict.

Obama also told Netanyahu that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is prepared to travel to the region.

Palestinian officials say Israeli air strikes killed more than 25 people across the Gaza Strip on July 19, raising to more than 330 the toll in 12 days of violence. Israel began bombarding the Hamas-ruled territory on July 8 in response to rockets fired by Palestinian militants into Israel.

Thousands of Israeli soldiers crossed into Gaza on July 17 to destroy tunnels and concealed rocket launchers used by the militants.Two Israeli civilians and a soldier have been killed since the campaign began.

On July 18, Netanyahu said he ordered the military to prepare for a possible significant expansion of its ground operation against Gaza militants.

The United Nations said the number of people displaced by the conflict in Gaza had nearly doubled on July 18, from 22,000 to more than 40,000.

With reporting by Reuters, AFP, and AP
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