UN Secretary-General António Guterres expressed on Sunday his concern over the escalation between Hamas and Israel in Gaza on Saturday.
"I am gravely concerned over the dangerous escalation of violence in Gaza and southern Israel,” said Guterres in a statement.
“I deeply regret the loss of life. It is imperative that all sides urgently step back from the brink of another devastating conflict,” he added.
Weekly clashes at the Israel-Gaza border have kept tensions high for months. At least 149 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli occupation forces during protests at the frontier held every week since March.
The surge in violence comes as Palestinian hopes for an independent state have dwindled and peace talks remain stalled. Gaza, which home to 2 million people, most of whom depend on foreign aid, has been under Israeli economic sanctions for 12 years.
On Friday, Palestinian gunmen killed an Israeli soldier and the Israeli military launched dozens of strikes that killed three Hamas fighters, according to media reports. A fourth Palestinian was killed by Israeli gunfire during a protest near the border.
In the statement, Guterres called on Hamas and other Palestinian militants in Gaza to cease the launching of rockets and incendiary kites along the enclave’s border fence. He also said Israel must exercise restraint to avoid further inflaming the situation.
“Any further escalation will endanger the lives of Palestinians and Israelis alike, deepen the humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza and undermine current efforts to improve livelihoods and support the return of the Palestinian Authority to Gaza,” he said.
The secretary-general also encouraged all parties to engage with the UN, and particularly his Special Coordinator Nickolay Mladenov and work to find “a way out of this dangerous situation.”
Palestinians in Gaza have for months been demonstrating against Israel's decade-long blockade of the territory and in support of their right to return to lands they fled or were driven from during the war surrounding the creation of Israel in 1948.
In the wake of the ‘Great March of Return’ demonstrations, which started on 30 March, Gaza’s already overstretched health sector has been struggling to cope with the mass influx of Palestinian casualties.
The blockade is worsening humanitarian conditions in Gaza, which human rights advocates have described as collective punishment of the Palestinians living in the strip.
The Gaza Strip faces an unprecedented humanitarian crisis, caused by over 10 years of Israeli blockade, alongside an internal Palestinian divide, which worsened in 2017, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).