Residents of the northern Gaza Strip had reported exchanges of fire between Israeli soldiers and Hamas militants during the temporary truce period, as well, reported Reuters. In the city of Gaza, hundreds had taken to the streets during the hiatus, shopping and visiting relatives.
Israel ordered a pause in its Gaza offensive for three hours Wednesday to allow food and fuel to reach Palestinians. An Israeli government spokesman also said it “welcomes” an Egyptian-French cease-fire proposal as long as Hamas halts militant rockets and weapons smuggling. The proposal won immediate backing from the United States and Europe.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy said in Paris that both Israel and the moderate Palestinian leadership in charge of the West Bank had accepted a cease-fire proposal.
In Turkey, a Middle Eastern diplomat told the Associated Press that Ankara will be given the task of constructing an international force for Gaza, but did not say what role the force would play. Some officials have spoken of an international mission to help monitor Gaza’s borders as a means of encouraging Israel to lift its blockade.
Hamas has said it would only support a deal that included an opening of Gaza’s borders.
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. More than 30 rockets hit the Jewish state on Tuesday.
In New York, where the U.N. Security Council met, 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 Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s security cabinet, due to convene on Wednesday, would debate whether to order their armed forces to storm into Gaza’s urban centers, the planned culmination of the offensive, unnamed political sources told Reuters.
They said ministers may defer a vote on approving the plan.
With criticism rising of the operation’s civilian death toll and Gazans suffering the effects of nonstop airstrikes and shelling, Israel’s military opened “humanitarian corridors” Wednesday to allow aid supplies to reach Palestinians.
Israeli military spokesman Peter Lerner said similar lulls in the coming days would be considered.
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 under the age of 16, said the Gaza-based Palestinian Center for Human Rights. On Tuesday alone, 77 civilians were killed.
An Israeli strike Tuesday near a U.N. school killed at least 39 people. The U.N. said 40 were killed and is demanding an “impartial investigation” into the attack. Israel said its forces fired at militants who launched mortars from that location.
Israel has lost seven soldiers and three civilians in the 12-day-old offensive.