News Wrap: Israel agrees to five-hour pause of Gaza strikes after UN appeal

GWEN IFILL: Israel agreed late today to a five-hour pause in attacks on Gaza after a U.N. appeal. The halt, for humanitarian purposes, will begin at 3:00 a.m. Eastern time tomorrow morning. The announcement followed a day of stepped-up strikes that pushed the Palestinian death toll to at least 213.

Jonathan Miller of Independent Television News filed this report from Gaza.

JONATHAN MILLER: Ten past 4:00, and there were two almighty explosions. Israeli shells had hit a groin used by Gaza City's fishermen. Many of their boats have already been targeted and sunk.

People emptied out onto the previously deserted street and rushed to help. It was then we learned that a third shell had killed four children minutes later just down the beach. Two still grabs from CCTV appear to show the four boys playing football. And then the shell strikes.

Israel's pledge had been to hit Hamas hard. At 1:30 a.m., three missiles from an F-16 slammed into the Gaza City home of Hamas super strongman Mahmoud Zahar. In all, four Hamas leaders' homes were destroyed overnight. None of them was killed, the debris here now a dystopian children's playground.

Shortly after dawn, an Israeli aircraft dropped leaflets on three neighborhoods. All were close to the Israeli border. One was in Shaja'ia, a district in the east of Gaza City.

And here is one of those leaflets. The translation from the Arabic goes: "For your own safety, we request that you vacate your residence immediately. The Israeli Defense Force doesn't wish to harm you or your family. Those who disregard these instructions endanger their own lives and those of their families."

But Hamas got on the local radio straight away and said: Don't believe it, don't move, it's propaganda. The Israelis simply want you to move out so that they can move in.

The residents of Shaja'ia were not impressed. "Where can we go?" this man asks. "We can't go. Where are we meant to go?"

This evening, the four boys killed just down the beach were laid out in the  Abu Hasira Mosque. The imam was agitated. He said, "Our battle with the enemy will never end."

GWEN IFILL: Hamas rejected a cease-fire yesterday. Today, the militants fired several dozen more rockets into Israel, but caused no major damage and no casualties.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was sworn in for a third term today, even as a now four-year-long civil war rages on in his country.

Assad took the oath of office during a large ceremony at the presidential palace in Damascus. He declared victory over those he called terrorists, and he warned countries who've backed the rebels.

PRESIDENT BASHAR AL-ASSAD, Syria (through interpreter): Soon, we will see that the Arab, regional and Western states that supported terrorism will pay a high price and many people will understand late that the battle in which Syrian people is fighting to defend its country is a battle to defend many other people that will be facing the same terrorism sooner or later.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The U.S. and other countries have dismissed Assad's reelection as a sham.

GWEN IFILL: In Iraq, government forces pulled back from a bid to retake Tikrit, after meeting heavy resistance from Sunni insurgents. The city was captured by the Islamic State group last month, a stronghold of former Saddam Hussein loyalists.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The United States is imposing its toughest sanctions yet on Russia for supporting rebels in Ukraine. The Treasury Department announced new penalties this afternoon, targeting key Russian banks, as well as energy and defense companies.

Later, President Obama said Russia has to understand it will pay a price for its actions.

These sanctions are significant, but they are also targeted, designed to have the maximum impact on Russia, while limiting any spillover effects on American companies or those of our allies. Now, we are taking these actions in close consultation with our European allies who are meeting in Brussels to agree on their next steps.

And what we are expecting is that the Russian leadership will see once again that its actions in Ukraine have consequences.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Pentagon officials reported today that Moscow has beefed up forces on Ukraine's border to 12,000 troops.

GWEN IFILL: Senate Democrats failed in their bid today to reverse a Supreme Court ruling on contraception and the health care law. Last month's decision says family-owned companies and others with religious objections may refuse to cover some forms of birth control. Democrats and Republicans jousted over the bill before a procedural vote.

SEN. PATTY MURRAY, D, Wash.: Now is the time for our colleagues to answer a few basic questions. Who should be in charge of a woman's health care decision?  Women should call the shots when it comes to their health care decisions, not their boss, not the government, not anyone else, period.

SEN. TED CRUZ, R, Texas: The issue before this body is not about access to contraceptives, despite a whole lot of politicking by Senate Democrats to suggest to the contrary. In this body, the number of people who would do anything to restrict access to contraceptives to anybody is zero.

GWEN IFILL: The measure ultimately fell four votes short of the 60 needed to advance. Republicans said they plan to introduce their own bill later this week.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The man running the Department of Veterans Affairs, for now, painted a grim picture today. Acting Secretary Sloan Gibson said veterans and the public have lost trust in the VA amid a scandal over treatment delays and falsified records.

But Gibson told a Senate hearing the VA has a chance to turn things around.

SLOAN GIBSON, Acting Secretary of Veterans Affairs: We can turn these challenges into the greatest opportunity for improvement in the history of this department. I believe that in, as little as two years, the conversation can change, that VA can be the trusted provider of choice for health care and for benefits.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The VA says it has already made some progress, such as reducing the number of veterans who've waited 90 days or more for a medical appointment.

GWEN IFILL: AIDS-related deaths worldwide are now the lowest since they peaked nearly a decade ago. A United Nations agency reports 1.5 million people died from the disease last year, 35 million were infected with HIV, virtually unchanged over the last two years.

The U.N. says, with greater funding, it will be possible to control the global epidemic by 2030 and ultimately end it.

JUDY WOODRUFF: A federal district judge in Southern California ruled today that the state's death penalty is unconstitutional. He said prolonged delays in carrying out executions have made the system too arbitrary, a violation of the constitutional bar against cruel and unusual punishment. The ruling came in the case of a man condemned in 1994 and still on death row.

GWEN IFILL: General Motors is facing yet more scrutiny about its handling of an ignition switch defect that triggered mass recalls. The New York Times reported today that GM kept quiet for years as regulators asked about the potential causes of fatal crashes. The ignition problem has been linked to at least 13 deaths.

JUDY WOODRUFF: BMW announced that it's recalling 1.6 million of its cars worldwide for possibly defective air bags. More than half-a-million of those are in the U.S. They include 3 Series cars from model years 2000 to 2006. A number of other automakers have issued similar recalls for air bags, all made by the same Japanese firm, Takata Corporation.

GWEN IFILL: On Wall Street today, the Dow Jones industrial average gained 77 points to close at 17,138. The Nasdaq rose nine points to close near 4,426. The S&P 500 added eight to finish at 1,981.