United Nations: Gaza is on "a knife edge" and the Middle East faces one of its most serious challenges in years, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has said in unusually forthright remarks.
Ban said he had spent the day talking with world leaders including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas and Egypt`s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, as well as US Secretary of State John Kerry.
It came as Israeli warplanes pounded Gaza, killing dozens in a major new confrontation with Palestinian militants, as Hamas flexed its firepower and sent thousands running for shelters across the country.
"I am alarmed by the new wave of violence that has engulfed Gaza, southern Israel and the West Bank - including East Jerusalem. This is one of the most critical tests the region has faced in recent years," said Ban yesterday.
"Gaza is on a knife edge. The deteriorating situation is leading to a downward spiral which could quickly get beyond anyone`s control.
"The risk of violence expanding further still is real. Gaza, and the region as a whole, cannot afford another full-blown war."
Ban condemned the rocket attacks launched from Gaza on Israel, saying: "Such attacks are unacceptable and must stop."
He said he had also urged Netanyahu to exercise maximum restraint and to respect international obligations to protect civilians.