UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The U.N. Security Council held an emergency meeting on Wednesday night to discuss Israeli strikes against the Gaza Strip but took no action, as Israel threatened a wider offensive in the Palestinian enclave to stem rocket salvoes by Hamas militants.
Indian Ambassador Hardeep Singh Puri, president of the 15-nation Security Council this month, told reporters after the 90-minute closed-door meeting that council members had only agreed to issue a communiqué stating that an emergency meeting took place and other procedural details.
Speaking on behalf of India, not the Security Council, Puri expressed the hope that the fact the council meeting took place would help to ease tensions in the Middle East and prevent an escalation of the conflict.
"The message that must be taken from this meeting is the violence must stop," he said, adding that the council was prepared to meet again on Gaza if necessary.
The Palestinians Authority had asked the council to issue a statement urging Israel to halt its offensive, but no such declaration was agreed.
Israel launched a new major offensive against Palestinian Hamas militants in Gaza on Wednesday, killing Hamas' military commander in an air strike and threatening an invasion of the enclave that the Islamist group said would "open the gates of hell.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's press office said earlier in two separate statements that he spoke on the telephone with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Mohamed Mursi of Egypt.
"(Ban) expressed his concern (to Netanyahu) about the deteriorating situation in southern Israel and the Gaza Strip, which includes an alarming escalation of indiscriminate rocket fire from Gaza into Israel and the targeted killing by Israel of a Hamas military operative in Gaza," the United Nations said.
Ban also voiced his expectation that "Israeli reactions are measured so as not to provoke a new cycle of bloodshed."
He also discussed with Mursi "the need to prevent any further deterioration," the United Nations said.
U.S. President Barack Obama also spoke with Netanyahu and Mursi and reiterated U.S. support for Israel's right to self-defence in light of rocket attacks from Gaza, the White House said.
"The president urged Prime Minister Netanyahu to make every effort to avoid civilian casualties. The two agreed that Hamas needs to stop its attacks on Israel to allow the situation to de-escalate," the White House statement said.
The emergency Security Council meeting came at the request of Egypt, Morocco and the Palestinians.
"Once again the international community is witness to Israel's malicious onslaught," the Palestinian Authority's U.N. envoy, Riyad Mansour, told the Security Council.
"The Israeli occupying forces are now mobilizing on the ground as we speak," Mansour said. "Fear and panic are spreading among the Palestinian civilian population."
The militant group Hamas, not the Palestinian Authority, controls Gaza.
U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice told the council there was "no justification for the violence that Hamas and other terrorist organizations are employing against the people of Israel," according to the written text of her statement. "We call on those responsible to stop these cowardly acts immediately."
Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin told reporters as he left the council that "we need to see how the situation develops."
Speaking to reporters, Israeli Ambassador Ron Prosor urged the international community to condemn "indiscriminate rocket fire against Israeli citizens - children, women." He was referring to escalating Palestinian rocket attacks from Gaza.
A group of Arab ambassadors appeared before reporters ahead of the council meeting. Speaking on their behalf, Sudanese Ambassador Daffa-Alla Elhag Ali Osman urged the council to condemn Israel's "barbaric heinous attack."
In a letter to the Security Council, Mansour also called for an end to "extrajudicial killing."
Prosor described the Hamas military commander killed by Israel, Ahmed Al-Jaabari, as a "mass murderer" who had been planning fresh attacks against Israeli citizens.
The council's failure to take any action was not a surprise. It is generally deadlocked on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which envoys say is due to the U.S. determination to protect Israel.
A new Gaza war has loomed for months as waves of Palestinian rocket attacks and Israeli strikes have grown more intense and frequent.
Mansour said the Israeli action was intended to draw attention away from the Palestinians' plan to seek an upgrade of its observer status at the United Nations from that of an "entity" to a "non-member state," implicitly recognizing Palestinian statehood.
Israel and the United States have made clear they would oppose the Palestinian upgrade, which would give it the right to join international bodies like the International Criminal Court, where it could file legal complaints against Israel.
U.N. diplomats said a vote on the Palestinian request was tentatively scheduled for November 29. A senior Western diplomat said the Palestinians would easily secure 120 to 130 votes out of the 193-nation General Assembly, which would ensure the success of their upgraded status at the United Nations.
Prosor told the council that the Palestinian push for a status upgrade was "march of folly."
"The Palestinian leadership is marching down a road that can only lead to more conflict, instability and violence," he said.