* Council has trouble reaching consensus on Middle East crisis
* Obama, UN chief spoke with leaders of Israel and Egypt
* Ban urges Netanyahu to avoid "new cycle of bloodshed"
By Louis Charbonneau
UNITED NATIONS, Nov 14 (Reuters) - The U.N. Security Council met in a closed emergency meeting on Wednesday night to discuss Israeli strikes against the Gaza Strip as Israel threatened a wider offensive in the Palestinian enclave to stem rocket salvoes by Hamas militants.
Diplomats said U.N. political affairs chief Jeffrey Feltman was briefing the 15-nation council. Israeli and Palestinians envoys will also have a chance to speak.
Separately, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's press office said in two separate statements that he spoke on the telephone with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Mohamed Mursi of Egypt.
"(Ban) expressed his concern (to Netanyahu) about the deteriorating situation in southern Israel and the Gaza Strip, which includes an alarming escalation of indiscriminate rocket fire from Gaza into Israel and the targeted killing by Israel of a Hamas military operative in Gaza," the U.N. said.
Ban also voiced his expectation that "Israeli reactions are measured so as not to provoke a new cycle of bloodshed."
He also discussed with Mursi "the need to prevent any further deterioration," the United Nations said in a second statement.
U.S. President Barack Obama also spoke with Netanyahu and Mursi and reiterated U.S. support for Israel's right to self-defense in light of rocket attacks from Gaza, the White House said.
"The president urged Prime Minister Netanyahu to make every effort to avoid civilian casualties. The two agreed that Hamas needs to stop its attacks on Israel to allow the situation to de-escalate," the White House statement said.
Israel launched a new major offensive against Palestinian Hamas militants in Gaza on Wednesday, killing Hamas' military commander in an air strike and threatening an invasion of the enclave that the Islamist group said would "open the gates of hell."
The emergency Security Council meeting came at the request of Egypt, Morocco and the Palestinians.
"Once again the international community is witness to Israel's malicious onslaught, using the most lethal military means and illegal measures against the defenseless Palestinian civilian population," the Palestinian Authority's U.N. envoy, Riyad Mansour, told the Security Council.
He urged the council to act. "A direct firm message must be sent to Israel to cease immediately its military campaign against the Palestinian people and to abide ... by its obligations under international law," Mansour said, according to a text of his statement distributed to reporters.
"The Israeli occupying forces are now mobilizing on the ground as we speak," Mansour said. "Fear and panic are spreading among the Palestinian civilian population."
The militant group Hamas, not the Palestinian Authority, controls Gaza.
Speaking to reporters, Israeli Ambassador Ron Prosor urged the international community to condemn "indiscriminate rocket fire against Israeli citizens - children, women." He was referring to escalating Palestinian rocket attacks from Gaza.
A group of Arab ambassadors appeared before reporters ahead of the council meeting. Speaking on their behalf, Sudanese Ambassador Daffa-Alla Elhag Ali Osman urged the council to condemn Israel's "barbaric heinous attack."
In a letter to Indian Ambassador Hardeep Singh Puri, president of the 15-nation council this month, Mansour said the council should also call for an to "extrajudicial killing."
Prosor described the Hamas military commander killed by Israel, Ahmed Al-Jaabari, as a "mass murderer" who had been planning fresh attacks against Israeli citizens.
It was unclear what a Security Council meeting would achieve since the 15-nation body is generally deadlocked on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which envoys say is due to the U.S. determination to protect Israeli.
A new Gaza war has loomed for months as waves of Palestinian rocket attacks and Israeli strikes have grown more intense and frequent.
Mansour said earlier the Israeli action was intended to draw attention away from the Palestinians' plan to seek an upgrade of its observer status at the United Nations from that of an "entity" to a "non-member state," implicitly recognizing Palestinian statehood.
Israel and the United States have made clear they would oppose the Palestinian upgrade, which would give it the right to join international bodies like the International Criminal Court, where it could file legal complaints against Israel.
U.N. diplomats said a vote on the Palestinian request was tentatively scheduled for Nov. 29. A senior Western diplomat said the Palestinians would easily secure 120 to 130 votes out of the 193-nation General Assembly, which would ensure the success of their upgraded status at the United Nations.