GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip
Israel and Hamas agreed to a five-hour U.N. brokered “humanitarian” pause to their nine-day-long battle, offering the most encouraging sign yet that the fierce fighting could come to an end.
Israel’s bombardment of Gaza has killed more than 200 Palestinians, including four boys struck on a beach Wednesday by shells fired from a navy ship. Israel said it would hold its fire today starting at 3 a.m. EDT under a plan to allow Palestinians to restock food, water and other necessities. But it vowed to retaliate “firmly and decisively” if Hamas or other militant groups launch attacks on Israel during that time.
Later, Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said that after consultations with various factions the Gaza militants had decided to respect the pause as well and would refrain from firing rockets during those hours as well.
Robert Serry, the U.N. special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, had asked Israel to agree to a “unilateral humanitarian pause” so that the supplies can be delivered to Gaza, said U.N. deputy spokesman Farhan Haq. Serry will “urge the parties in Gaza to respect that pause,” Haq said.
Israel previously had halted its fire for six hours Tuesday after Egypt put forward a cease-fire proposal that unraveled. Abu Zuhri said Wednesday his group had formally rejected the plan, bemoaning what he called little support from the Arab world.
But Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas met Wednesday in Cairo with a senior official from Hamas to try to salvage the Egyptian proposal.
In Washington, President Barack Obama said the U.S. supports Egypt’s continued efforts to restore the 2012 cease-fire and will use all of its diplomatic resources and relationships to secure a deal to end the violence.
Israel’s military said its forces bombed at least 150 targets in Gaza on Wednesday.
Gaza health official Ashraf al-Kidra said the Palestinian death toll rose to 222, with 1,670 wounded. Only one Israeli has so far died in the conflict.