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UN Chief Heads to Mideast to Show 'Solidarity' With Israel, Palestinians

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is expected in the Middle East on Sunday to express "solidarity" with Israelis and Palestinians, and to look for ways to end the violence between them.

The U.N. says Ban will stop first in Doha and from there visit Kuwait City, Cairo, Jerusalem, Ramallah, and Amman.

Officials say Ban's trip is part of his effort to encourage a durable ceasefire between Israel and Hamas militants.

Israel launched a ground offensive into the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip Thursday after repeated warnings and airstrikes failed to convince Hamas to stop rocket attacks on Israeli cities.

Israel's military says it has hit about 200 terrorist targets since the operation began. They include more than 20 tunnels militants used to smuggle in weapons and explosives.

At least 342 Palestinians, including many civilians, have been killed since Israel stepped up its airstrikes against Hamas on July 8. Two Israeli civilians and three soldiers have died.

Israel's Iron Dome missile defense system has stopped nearly all the Palestinian rockets from hitting their targets.

Israel says its ground and air offensive will continue as long as the Hamas rocket attacks continue. Palestinians are demanding Israel lift its long-standing blockade of Gaza and release a number of Palestinian prisoners.