Israel stops bombing Gaza for three hours, military says
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Under increasing international pressure, Israel has stopped bombing the Gaza Strip for three hours to allow the passage of humanitarian aid inside the territory. According to Gaza medics, at least 680 Palestinians have been killed since Dec. 27.
Israeli military pounded Hamas positions early Wednesday morning after a night of relative calm in the Gaza Strip as the Israeli government mulls an Egyptian ceasefire proposal.
“We had a quiet night and people could sleep,” reports FRANCE 24’s Zouheir al Najjar, “but about an hour ago, we heard clashes in the east of Gaza City, in the neighbourhood of Zeitoun.” Al Najjar reported that Israeli snipers were sighted and civilians were told to stay at home.
“In the east and the south we also heard bombing from the sea and from Israeli artillery,” he added.
Following the deadliest day in civilian casualties since the start of the Israeli offensive, Israel said it would open a “humanitarian corridor” in the Gaza Strip. On Tuesday, Israel hit three UN schools where hundreds of people had taken refuge.
In an interview with FRANCE 24, Francesc Claret, a spokesperson for the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) in Ramallah – the agency which runs the schools - denied Israeli allegations that militants were based in the school in Jabalya refugee camp. “There is not militant activity in the UN school in Jabalya, and we want to know why Israel hit the school” he said, adding that 30 Palestinian civilians were killed and 115 wounded in the Israeli strike.
“Morale is very low,” he said after speaking to UNRWA officials in the Gaza Strip, “everybody is really scared and refugees do not know where to go now.”
Israel said it would suspend bombing Gaza for three hours every day beginning on Wednesday.
"It was decided to suspend bombings between 1 and 4 o'clock (1100 GMT and 1400 GMT) every day starting today," an army spokeswoman told AFP, adding that the military would respond if fired on and if rockets were launched from the enclave.
Under international pressure to spare civilian lives and let stranded Gaza residents obtain food and medical help, Israel will halt bombing the Gaza Strip for three hours every day beginning on Wednesday, an Israeli army spokeswoman said.
Since the start of the Israeli offensive on Dec. 27, at least 680 Palestinians, including 215 children, have been killed and 2,950 wounded, according to Palestinian medics.
Egypt floats truce plan
On Wednesday, Israeli PM Ehud Olmert convened a security cabinet meeting to weigh expanding the army's offensive in the Gaza Strip and discuss an Egyptian ceasefire initiative, officials said.
"The cabinet is now meeting to discuss the operation in Gaza and to discuss the latest ceasefire initiative," a government official said. "(Israeli Defence Minister) Barak has instructed the army to prepare for the third stage of the operation," he added.
An Israeli UN envoy announced late Tuesday, that Israel was mulling a Franco-Egyptian ceasefire proposal backed by Egypt, the UN and Europe.
On Tuesday, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak made his ceasefire call at a joint news conference in Egypt with French President Nicolas Sarkozy. In Sharm El-Sheikh, Mubarak said the truce agreement would include new security measures to halt arms smuggling along the Gaza border. Such guarantees would include "securing the borders and... opening of the border crossings and lifting the siege," he said.
In New York, where the UN Security Council met on Gaza overnight, Israeli Ambassador Gabriela Shalev told reporters, "I am sure that (Egypt's proposal) will be considered and you will find out whether it was accepted. But we take it very, very seriously."
However, Israeli officials also said ministers would discuss a major escalation of their 12-day-old offensive that would push troops deep inside Gaza's cities and refugee camps in their bid to end rocket salvoes into Israel by Islamist militants.
Israel has repeatedly said that it would accept a ceasefire only if it obtained guarantees that Hamas would no longer be able to fire rockets on its soil.
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