British Foreign Secretary William Hague said Thursday that Hamas "bears principal responsibility" for the surge in deadly Gaza violence, saying it should cease attacks against Israel immediately.
He also strongly urged Israel to do its utmost to reduce tensions, avoid civilian casualties and help create the conditions for peace, warning: "It is imperative to avoid the risk of a spiral of violence."
Hague said he was "gravely concerned" by the situation in Gaza and southern Israel, as Israeli warplanes pounded the Palestinian territory for a second day amid fierce fighting sparked by Israel's targeted killing of a top Hamas chief on Wednesday.
"Hamas bears principal responsibility for the current crisis," Hague said in a statement.
"I utterly condemn rocket attacks from Gaza into southern Israel by Hamas and other armed groups. This creates an intolerable situation for Israeli civilians in southern Israel, who have the right to live without fear of attack from Gaza.
"The rocket attacks also risk worsening the plight of Palestinian civilians in Gaza, which is already precarious.
"Hamas and other armed groups in Gaza should cease attacks against Israel immediately. I call on those in the region with influence over Hamas to use that influence to bring about an end to the attacks."
He also warned Israel that its assault, which has prompted an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council, risked escalating tensions in the region.
"I also strongly urge Israel to do their utmost to reduce tension, avoid civilian casualties and increase the prospects for both sides to live in peace," Hague said.
"It is imperative to avoid the risk of a spiral of violence. The escalation of the conflict would be in no-one's interest, particularly at a time of instability in the region."
He added that the crisis underlined the need for an urgent return to peace negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians.