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Russia's special envoy to the Middle East met with the Israeli
Russia's special envoy to the Middle East met with the Israeli foreign minister in Jerusalem to urge an end to the violence in the Gaza Strip, where the death toll has increased to over 500, the foreign ministry said.

Israel launched a ground offensive sending at least 10,000 troops into Gaza on Saturday following a week of airstrikes on the densely-populated enclave. The troops, supported by Israeli tanks and aircraft, were reported to be involved in running battles with Hamas fighters.

Alexander Saltanov, deputy foreign minister and President Dmitry Medvedev's envoy, met with Tzipi Livni on Sunday to try and prevent a humanitarian catastrophe in the region which is home to some 1.5 million Palestinians. Over 2,000 Palestinians have been injured in the airstrikes.

"The central topic under discussion was the sharp worsening of the situation in Gaza and its surroundings. There was a comprehensive exchange of views on possible approaches to overcoming the current crisis. Special focus was paid to the grave humanitarian crisis in the region," Russia's Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

Livni told the Russian envoy, "Israel is conducting a campaign against terror which strikes at its citizens. Other states in the world do likewise, and sometimes also enjoy the direct support of other states. Israel is not asking any other country to fight in its stead - this is our responsibility towards our citizens - but I expect the support and understanding of the international community for the actions that Israel must take."

During a telephone conversation with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Sunday the Russian president expressed Russia's "serious concern" over the number of civilian deaths on both sides and urged "to stop bloodshed by ensuring a bilateral ceasefire," a Kremlin statement said.

Saltanov also thanked Israel for allowing Russia to evacuate its nationals and those of former Soviet republics from Gaza amid the violence.

Two flights carrying 102 Russians and 76 nationals from Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Belarus and Moldavia, evacuated from Gaza, arrived in Moscow earlier on Saturday. Some 250 Russians, mainly the wives and children of Palestinians who studied at Russian universities, were reported to be living in the Gaza Strip.

Kazakhstan's Foreign Ministry said that 14 Kazakhstani nationals, the wives of Palestinians, had chosen to remain in Gaza.

Russia sent some 60 tons of humanitarian aid, including foodstuffs, medicine, bedding and tents, to the Gaza Strip on Saturday.

Over the past week Israel's controversial bombing campaign has destroyed more than 750 facilities in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, which according to Israel were connected to terrorist activities. Tel Aviv said they had launched the strikes in an "all-out war" to prevent militant rockets attacks on Israeli border towns from Gaza.

Palestinian militants launched over 500 rockets on Israel in response to the aerial bombing. At least four Israelis have been killed.


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