(ADDS MORE DETAILS, HAMAS REACTION)
BosNewsLife Middle East Service
JERUSALEM, ISRAEL (BosNewsLife) — Israel is halting its military operations for three hours a day beginning Wednesday, January 7, to allow humanitarian aid to enter into Gaza, Israeli officials said.
Israel has allowed some aid deliveries since it began air strikes began December 27 but relief workers said they have been unable to reach much of the population because of heavy fighting.
The militant group Hamas, which is in charge of the Gaza Strip, said it would not launch any missiles during the three-hour pause, from 1 PM to 4 PM local time.
“There will be no missile launching in these three hours,” Hamas deputy leader Moussa Abu Marzouk told Dubai-based Al Arabiya television.
It came after the United Nations waited on Wednesday, January 7, for Israel’s response to a U.S.-backed ceasefire proposal by Egypt.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, while calling for a “durable and sustainable” ceasefire, praised Egypt’s efforts added there could be no deal unless Hamas halted attacks on Israel and stopped smuggling arms into Gaza, news reports said.
“We need urgently to conclude a ceasefire that can endure and that can bring real security,” Rice, told the Security Council on Tuesday, January 6, at a session called to discuss the 12-day Israeli offensive.
Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations indicated the Jewish state might be open to Egypt’s ceasefire proposal but she offered no firm guarantees.
“We respect every effort being made to find a solution,” Ambassador Gabriela Shalev told reporters. “I am very sure it will be considered … we take it very, very seriously.”
Egypt’s proposal calls for a limited initial truce to allow aid into Gaza and would then give time for Cairo to broker a more permanent ceasefire.
Israel also has faced strong international criticism over what Palestinian medics say are nearly 700 Palestinian civilian casualties that have resulted from Israel’s 12-day old offensive against Hamas militants. It has been difficult to verify this figures independently, as international journalists had no access to the Gaza Strip.
Israel’s security cabinet was scheduled to Wednesday, January 7, to discuss whether to expand the military operation in Gaza to allow Israeli forces to enter urban centers.
Israel says its operation is in response to rocket fire from Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip. Israeli forces said they hit 40 Hamas targets overnight with air strikes and artillery fire, the Voice of America (VOA) network reported. Gaza health officials say the latest strikes killed at least eight people. Hamas rockets also hit southern Israel, but no casualties were reported.
On Tuesday, January 6, Israeli strikes killed some 40 Palestinians at a U.N.-run school in Gaza where hundreds of civilians were taking refuge, according to Palestinian and U.N. sources.
Israel said its shelling at the school was in response to mortar fire from within the premises and accused Hamas militants of using schools, mosques and other civilian places to hide.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said it was “unacceptable” that the strikes would happen near U.N. facilities, and other U.N. officials demanded an investigation.