Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has voiced his deep concern over Israel’s launch of a ground operation into Gaza today, with the Security Council calling an emergency meeting to discuss the situation. Mr. Ban expressed his extreme disappointment to Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.“He is convinced and alarmed that this escalation will inevitably increase the already heavy suffering of the affected civilian populations,” according to a statement issued by the Secretary-General”s spokesperson. “He called for an immediate end to the ground operation, and asked that Israel do all possible to ensure the protection of civilians and that humanitarian assistance is able to reach those in need.” Mr. Ban underscored that today’s developments thwart efforts to bring peace to the region by the so-called Quartet – comprising the United Nations, the European Union (EU), Russia and the United States – and others. He repeated his appeal for an urgent end to the clashes, and “urges regional and international partners to exert all possible influence to bring about an immediate end to the bloodshed and suffering.” Israel has cited rocket and other attacks by militants in Gaza against Israeli civilians as the reason for its military offensive and closing crossings into Gaza for much of the previous two months. Following the Security Council’s closed meeting this evening, Ambassador Jean-Maurice Ripert of France, which holds the Council Presidency this month, said that while there was “no formal agreement” among the 15 members, he witnessed “strong convergences” to express concern over the stepped up violence and the humanitarian situation in Gaza. “There was also strong convergence to express full support to the regional and international diplomatic efforts which are underway to resolve the crisis and to call all parties to resume peace talks,” he told reporters. According to the Ministry of Health in Gaza, more than 400 people have been killed since Israeli military operations began on 27 December, and the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said today that the distribution of food to the most vulnerable has been impeded by the insecurity. The UN World Food Programme (WFP) has only been able to deliver a fraction of the more than 1,000 metric tons of supplies available, while the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) was able to resume distributions on 1 January that it had suspended in mid-December. The Kerem Shalom crossing was closed today, but three truckloads of medical supplies reached Gaza today through the Rafah crossing. According to OCHA, fuel to restart the Gaza Power Plant which has been shut down since 30 December, flour and cash are urgently needed in Gaza. 3 January 2009Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has voiced his deep concern over Israel’s launch of a ground operation into Gaza today, with the Security Council holding an emergency meeting this evening to discuss the situation.