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European Commission Calls for End of Violence in Gaza

The European Commission is calling for an immediate halt to hostilities in the Gaza Strip, which has been rocked by a massive military operation by Israeli forces.

The commission, which is the executive arm of the European Union, issued a statement from Brussels Tuesday, a few hours before EU foreign ministers hold a meeting in Paris to discuss the crisis.

The statement says the hostilities are having a "heavy impact on the civilian population in Gaza." The commission wants humanitarian aid delivered to Gaza, where hospitals have been overwhelmed by the inflow of casualties.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon demanded Monday that Israel and Hamas stop acts of violence immediately. He also criticized the international response, saying world leaders should do more to encourage dialogue and a long-term resolution of the conflict.

British media report Tuesday that former Prime Minister Tony Blair is scheduled to visit the Middle East next week. Blair, the current international envoy to the Middle East, will meet with Israeli and Palestinian officials amid mounting international efforts to broker a cease-fire.

A spokesman, Gordon Johndroe, for the Bush administration says the U.S. is also working to restore a sustainable cease-fire and has urged Israel to avoid civilian casualties in Gaza. He said President Bush has spoken with the kings of Saudi Arabia and Jordan about efforts to stop the violence.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov criticized Hamas Monday for refusing to enter into unity talks with the Fatah faction of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. He said Hamas must accept Mr. Abbas's authority as leader of the Palestinian people.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel blamed Hamas for the violence in Gaza, saying the group must stop rocket fire against Israel.

Anger toward the Israeli offensive in Gaza has triggered protests across the Middle East. Scores of protesters broke into the Egyptian consulate in the Yemeni city of Aden Tuesday. The protesters vandalized the complex and burned the Egyptian flag before they were removed by security forces.

Egypt has been the target of protests throughout the Arab world since the crisis began, for its close ties to Israel.