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U.N. chief to travel to Middle East in bid to end fighting

by Michelle Nichols, Reuters

July 18, 2014 | 1:45 pm

<em>U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on June 27. Photo by Noor Khamis/Reuters</em>

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on June 27. Photo by Noor Khamis/Reuters

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will travel to the Middle East on Saturday in a bid to end the fighting between Israel and Palestinians, alarmed at a serious escalation that includes a ground offensive by Israel, said a senior U.N. official.

Israel intensified its land offensive in Gaza with artillery, tanks and gunboats on Friday and warned it could "significantly widen" an operation Palestinian officials said was killing ever greater numbers of civilians.

"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," U.N. political affairs chief Jeffrey Feltman told the U.N. Security Council on Friday.

Ban will travel to the region "to express solidarity with Israelis and Palestinians and to help them, in coordination with regional and international actors, end the violence and find a way forward," Feltman said.

Ban has urged Israel to do more to stop civilian casualties. Feltman said some 250 Palestinians, mostly civilians and including more than 50 children, and two Israelis, one of them a civilian, have been killed since hostilities flared on July 8.

Editing by Bernadette Baum

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