UNITED NATIONS - The United States blocked on Tuesday a UN Security Council statement condemning the escalating conflict between Israel and the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, setting the scene for a possible showdown between Washington and Russia on the issue.

The United States opposed the statement - which had to be approved by consensus - because it "failed to address the root cause" - missile attacks by Hamas - of the escalation in fighting between Israel and Hamas militants in Gaza, said Erin Pelton, spokeswoman for the US mission to the United Nations.

Israel said it was these Hamas rocket attacks that prompted its major offensive against the terrorists in Gaza on Wednesday.

"We made clear that we would measure any action by the Security Council based on whether it supported the ongoing diplomacy toward de-escalation of violence and a durable outcome that ends the rocket attacks on Israeli cities," Pelton said.

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