BRASILIA: A major South American trading bloc condemned Saturday the "disproportionate use of force" in Gaza, calling on Israel and the Palestinians to immediately halt the violence that has claimed more than 40 lives.
MERCOSUR leaders expressed "their strongest condemnation of the violence taking place in Israel and Palestine," said a statement released by Brazil, which currently holds the group's rotating presidency.
They "profoundly lament the lost of human lives and express their concern over the disproportionate use of force," it added.
The statement also expressed support for the Palestinians' controversial bid to secure upgraded membership at the United Nations later this month, a move strongly opposed by Israel and the United States.
The trading bloc, whose members include Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and Venezuela, as well as currently-suspended Paraguay, recognizes a Palestinian state and signed a free trade agreement with the Palestinian authority in December.
MERCOSUR also signed a free trade agreement with Israel in 2007.
Israeli air strikes in the neighboring Gaza Strip killed 10 people on Saturday and destroyed the headquarters of the Hamas government.
Since the conflict broke out on Wednesday, 40 Palestinians have been killed and a further 393 have been injured, according to Gaza's emergency services.
In the same period, three Israelis have been killed by rocket fire from Gaza and another 18 injured, 10 of them soldiers, police and the army said.