It also emphasised the need for the full implementation of the UN's resolution of January 8, which was adopted by a 14-0 vote with the US abstaining, that called for an immediate halt to fighting in the Strip.

Ban Ki-moon, the UN Secretary-General, in an address to the meeting on his tour of the Middle East, called Israel's attacks against UN facilities "outrageous" and said he expected those responsible to be held accountable.

He added he would "decide on appropriate follow-up action" only after receiving a report on Israel's inquiry from Ehud Olmert, the country's prime minister.

Palestinian reconciliation

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Wednesday's statement encouraged "tangible steps towards Palestinian reconciliation" and efforts to establish an independent Palestinian state.

Ban said the ceasefire and Israel's withdrawal were important achievements but conditions were still fragile, and much more remained to be done on both humanitarian and diplomatic fronts.

"For any sustainable political progress to occur and for Gaza to properly recover and rebuild, Palestinians must face the challenges of reconciliation," Ban said.

Riyad Mansour, representing the Palestinian Authority at the UN, said that "we need unity today more than any other moment in our recent history because we cannot deal with all the things that we have to deal with divided".

"If that division [is] to continue it would entrench the division between Gaza and the West Bank and would be a huge blow against our dream and aspiration of having a contiguous, viable Palestinian state," he said.