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(photo credit: AP)
In an urgent letter to the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the head of the UN Security council, Israeli UN Ambassador Gabriela Shalev on Saturday night defended Israel's decision to embark on a military operation in the Gaza Strip in order to put an end to rocket attacks on the South.
"Israel is taking the necessary military action in order to protect its citizens from ongoing terrorist attacks originating from the Gaza Strip and carried out by Hamas and other terrorist organizations," Shalev said, adding that Hamas "holds the sole responsibility for the latest events."
Israel, she continued, "has exhausted all means and efforts to reach and maintain quiet and to respect the state of calmâ€¦ Israel's response is aimed solely against the terrorists and their infrastructures in the Gaza Strip. It is not intended against the civilian population. Israel is committed to prevent a humanitarian crisis."
Shalev asserted that "No country would allow continuous rocketing of its civilian population without taking the necessary actions to stop it."
World reaction to Israel's sudden, massive strike against terror infrastructure in the Gaza Strip ranged from immediate condemnation and a call to halt all attacks to cautious acknowledgement of Israel's right to defend its citizens. Some international powers spoke against Hamas's bombardment of communities in southern Israel since the cease-fire ended last week; others wrung their hands over the humanitarian suffering in the Strip.
In a statement released Saturday, Ban called for an immediate halt to all violence in both Gaza and southern Israel.
"While recognizing Israel's security concerns regarding the continued firing of rockets from Gaza, Ban firmly reiterates Israel's obligation to uphold international humanitarian and human rights law and condemns excessive use of force leading to the killing and injuring of civilians. He condemns the ongoing rocket attacks by Palestinian militants and is deeply distressed that repeated calls on Hamas for these attacks to end have gone unheeded," the statement continued.
Ban has reiterated his previous calls for humanitarian supplies to be allowed into Gaza to aid the distressed civilian population.
Quartet Representative Tony Blair, speaking Saturday in response to events in Gaza, said: "The terrible events and tragic loss of life in Gaza require, in the immediate term, the introduction of a genuine calm in which the rocket attacks aimed at killing Israeli civilians and the Israeli attacks on Gaza cease so that the suffering of the people, which is severe, can be lifted.
"Then, as I have said many times before, we need to devise a new strategy for Gaza, which brings that territory back under the legitimate rule of the Palestinian Authority in a manner which ends their suffering and fully protects the security of Israel."
President Nicholas Sarkozy of France, who holds the rotating European Union presidency, said he "firmly condemns the irresponsible provocations that have led to this situation, as well as the disproportionate use of force," according to an e-mailed statement.
The EU itself has also urged an immediate halt to Israeli air strikes and Palestinian attacks in and around Gaza and the lifting of Israeli blockades in the area, saying in a statement that the 27-nation bloc "condemns the disproportionate use of force" from both sides. "There is no military solution in Gaza," the EU statement said, urging a lasting truce.
The EU statement also urges the "reopening of all checkpoints and the immediate resumption of fuel and humanitarian aid deliveries."
In Germany, the foreign minister condemned Hamas for abandoning the cease-fire with Israel and urged the group to "immediately and permanently stop the insufferable rocket attacks on Israel."
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown expressed concern with the situation in Gaza and called on Palestinian factions to halt rocket attacks on Israel.
"I call on Gazan militants to cease all rocket attacks on Israel immediately. These attacks are designed to cause random destruction and to undermine the prospects of peace talks led by President [Mahmoud] Abbas."
"I understand the Israeli government's sense of obligation to its population," Brown said. "Israel needs to meet its humanitarian obligations, act in a way to further the long-term vision of a two-state solution, and do everything in its power to avoid civilian casualties."
Conservative Party leader David Cameron called the violence "horrific," but said that though he understood Israel's right to protect its citizens, both sides must show restraint. "In the end, the only progress will be political progress and a settlement between the Israelis and the Palestinians. That is what's desperately needed," he added.
The Foreign Affairs spokesman for the Liberal Democrat Party, Ed Davey, described the Israeli strikes in Gaza as "disproportionate and unacceptable."
The Vatican's spokesman, Rev. Federico Lombardi, told Vatican Radio on Saturday that Israel's offensive would be a "very serious blow" to Hamas but could also cause many innocent victims and damage peace prospects in the Holy Land.
Elie Leshem contributed to this report