PARIS, July 13 (Xinhua) -- French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian on Sunday called for an "immediate cease fire" in the Gaza Strip to prevent escalation of violence and protect civilians in the Israeli military strike.
"The situation in the Middle East is serious ... France calls for an immediate cease-fire," Le Drian told the local broadcaster Europe1.
"We condemn the Hamas rocket attacks against Israeli civilians, but we also call on Israel to show restraint in its response and in particular to respect international law and to ensure that civilian casualties are avoided," he added.
At a meeting in Vienna with U.S., German and British counterparts on the fresh outbreak of violence in Hamas-ruled enclave, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said "The absolute priority is a ceasefire," asking both rivals to return to a 2012 deal to cease fire and resume talks.
In its first ground assault in the Gaza Strip, Israeli forces early Sunday intensified its military action against the Hamas militants, asking residents in the Strip to leave their homes before strikes.
Israel began the Operation Protective Edge on Tuesday in order to stop rocket attacks from Gaza.
So far, the strikes killed at least 167 Palestinians and wounded more than 780, according to reports. The UN estimates that about 80 percent of the casualties were civilians.