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UN Chief Says No Time to Lose for Gaza Cease-Fire

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says there is no time to lose for a cease-fire in Gaza - or more people will die. He was speaking in Jerusalem after a day of talks with Israeli leaders, aimed at ending the nearly three weeks of violence.

Secretary General Ban Ki-moon came to try to negotiate a cease-fire in a day of talks with senior Israeli leaders, ending with a meeting in Jerusalem with President Shimon Peres.

Speaking to reporters, Mr. Ban repeatedly called for an immediate and urgent cease-fire, respected by both Israel and Hamas.

"The rockets [from Hamas] must stop and the Israeli offensive must cease," he said.

Israel says its military offensive is aimed at stopping Hamas rocket fire into southern Israel, but Israeli officials say any cease-fire can only hold if Hamas is prevented from re-arming.

President Peres laid the blame for the current violence squarely on the shoulders of Hamas, and accused the militant group of hiding among the civilian population of Gaza.

"What they did is against all human norms - to bring bombs into kindergartens, to use human shields for covering the shooting of missiles against us," he said.

The U.N. chief condemned the Hamas rocket fire and said he fully supports Israel's right to live in peace and defend its citizens. But, he said Israel must also act wisely in the interests of peace.

He urged an immediate end to hostilities and said the issues for a longer-term settlement could be discussed afterwards.

"There is no time to lose," he said. "The longer you take time, the more people will be killed. This is an unbearable situation."

The Hamas-run Palestinian health ministry in Gaza says more than 1,000 people have been killed and more than 3,000 injured in the Israeli offensive. Thirteen Israelis have died in that time span, including three civilians killed by Hamas rockets.

Mr. Ban's tone was more measured than earlier in the day when he expressed outrage at the Israeli shelling of a U.N. compound in Gaza City and demanded a full explanation. Israeli officials have expressed regret for the incident, but say their troops fired because they had been fired upon by militants in the area.

Fighting intensified in Gaza, as Israeli troops and tanks moved deeper into crowded residential neighborhoods, sending residents fleeing in panic. One Israeli air strike killed the Hamas Interior Minister, Said Siam.

Amid rising casualty figures and intense fighting, there is also increasing pressure to bring an end to hostilities. Mr. Ban has held talks in Egypt and Jordan. He is scheduled to meet Friday with Palestinian leaders in Ramallah before traveling to Turkey, Lebanon, Syria and Kuwait.