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UN Chief: Mideast 'Fighting Must Stop'

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says a Security Council resolution demanding an immediate cease-fire in the Gaza Strip must be respected. On the eve of a diplomatic sweep through the region, Mr. Ban said he is "deeply anguished" over the situation in Gaza and hopes that he can step up the pace of diplomatic efforts on the ground.

Mr. Ban says his message is simple, direct and to the point.

"The fighting must stop," he said. "To both sides, I say, 'Just stop now.'"

The secretary-general has repeatedly called for both sides to implement an immediate cease-fire.

Last week, the Security Council adopted resolution 1860 calling for an "immediate and durable cease-fire" by a vote of 14 to zero. The United States was the sole abstention. But Israel and Hamas have rejected it.

Mr. Ban said that he is "very frustrated and concerned" that the resolution has not been fully observed. He cited deep concern over the rising number of Palestinian casualties in Gaza. In 17 days of fighting, more than 900 Palestinians have been reported killed and some 4,000 more injured, many of them civilians.

The U.N. chief leaves for the Middle East on Tuesday and plans to visit seven countries in six days.

"My goal is to step up the pace of our joint diplomatic efforts and ensure that urgent humanitarian assistance reaches those in need," he said.

The secretary-general's schedule includes meetings with top leaders in Israel, Egypt, Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon, Syria and Kuwait.

Arab ministers have long been planning to meet this week in Kuwait to discuss the global economic crisis. Mr. Ban said he expects there will be extra sessions to deal with the violence in Gaza and that he would be willing to participate.

The secretary-general said he also hopes his visit will be a tangible expression of his support for the 10,000 United Nations personnel on the ground in the Palestinian territories and Israel.

Israel launched its air and ground incursion into Gaza 17 days ago to silence Hamas rocket attacks into southern Israel. In addition to the Palestinian casualties, 10 Israeli soldiers have been killed in the fighting, and three Israeli civilians were killed by Hamas rocket fire.