(by Ibrahim Barzak and Matti Friedman, WashingtonTimes.com) GAZA CITY, Gaza (AP) – Israel ordered a pause in its Gaza offensive for three hours Wednesday to allow food and fuel to reach besieged Palestinians, and a government spokesman said it “welcomes” an Egyptian-French cease-fire proposal as long as Hamas halts militant rockets and weapons smuggling.
Hamas said it would only support a deal that included an opening of Gaza’s borders.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy said in Paris that both Israel and the moderate Palestinian leadership in charge of the West Bank had accepted the truce proposal. And in Turkey, a diplomat said that country will be given the task of constructing an international force for Gaza.
However, Israel said it would support the proposal only if it halts “hostile fire” from Hamas in Gaza and includes measures to prevent the militant group from rearming, said government spokesman Mark Regev.
A Hamas official offered similar cautions.
“Israel is still widening and escalating its aggression and is not giving any positive signals in response to these efforts,” Ghazi Hammad said.
With criticism rising of the operation’s spiraling civilian death toll and Gazans increasingly suffering the effects of nonstop airstrikes and shelling, Israel’s military opened “humanitarian corridors” to allow aid supplies to reach Palestinians.
Israeli military spokesman Peter Lerner said the “recess in offensive operations” was aimed at allowing in supplies and fuel and would last from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m local time (6 a.m. to 9 a.m. EST). He said similar lulls in the coming days would be considered.
However, Lerner said that even during the pause “for every attack against the army, there will be a response.” Gaza residents reported scattered gunfire and explosions even after it was supposed to have gone into effect, but the scale of fighting appeared to drop.
As Israel’s leadership met in the morning in Tel Aviv, sounds of heavy gunfire and thick plumes of smoke engulfed the Zeitoun neighborhood east of Gaza City. Israel said it struck 40 Hamas targets during the hours of darkness. Gaza health officials said new strikes Wednesday morning killed eight people.
Outrage over an Israeli strike Tuesday near a U.N. school continued, with the U.N. agency responsible for the building demanding an “impartial investigation” into the attack. Gaza health officials put the death toll from the strike at 39, while the U.N. said 40 were killed.
Israel said its forces fired [in self-defense] at militants who launched mortars from that location.
About 300 of the more than 670 Palestinians killed so far are civilians, according to Palestinian and U.N. figures. Of those killed, at least 130 are children age 16 and under, says the Gaza-based Palestinian Center for Human Rights, which tracks casualties.
Copyright 2009 News World Communications, Inc. Reprinted with permission of the Washington Times. For educational purposes only. This reprint does not constitute or imply any endorsement or sponsorship of any product, service, company or organization. Visit the website at www.washingtontimes.com.
1. a) On what condition has Hamas said it will agree to a cease-fire proposal?
b) Why did Israel close its borders with the Gaza Strip after the June 2008 cease-fire was signed? (Read about Israel’s reason for closing Gaza’s border under “Background” below.)
2. On what conditions has Israel said it will agree to a cease-fire?
3. a) Why did the Israeli military enact a 3 hour cease-fire in Gaza this morning?
b) Did Hamas honor the cease-fire to help Palestinian civilians get supplies?
4. Why did Israeli soldiers fire on/near a U.N. school in Gaza yesterday?
5. What is the main reason why almost half of Palestinian casualties are civilians? (See “Background” below for the answer.)
NOTE ON ISRAEL’S CLOSING OF BORDER BETWEEN THE GAZA STRIP AND ISRAEL:
DID YOU KNOW?…
Hamas places weapons in its mosques, hides terrorists among hospital staff, locates its offices in apartment buildings, and places its munitions factories and storage areas in neighborhoods. Israel uses precision-guided munitions and makes every reasonable effort to minimize collateral damage and civilian casualties. Hamas, by contrast, almost exclusively targets civilians in Israel. (Hamas rarely attacks Israeli forts or military units stationed along the border. Rather, these terrorists fire rockets and missiles indiscriminately at nearby towns and cities to kill civilians. This is a war crime.)
What do you think? Are Hamas’s attacks on Israeli civilians morally equivalent to Israel’s attacks on Hamas?
For background information on Hamas click here.
For a map of Israel and the Gaza Strip, go to wsj.com.
Follow the latest developments in Gaza at the Jerusalem Post website jpost.com.