VIENNA -- US President Barack Obama expressed "serious concern" to Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu on Sunday over the growing number of civilian Palestinian casualties in Israel's operation against Hamas in Gaza.

In a phone call between the two leaders, Obama also told Netanyahu that US Secretary of State John Kerry was preparing travel to Cairo in order to "seek an immediate cessation of hostilities" based on a return to the November 2012 ceasefire agreement, according to a readout of the call from the White House.

US officials confirm to The Jerusalem Post that Kerry is trying to leave for the Middle East tonight, after the secretary spoke candidly on a hot mic of the urgent need for a trip.

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