Friday, August 29, 2014
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Israel agrees to 'humanitarian' pause in Gaza

Gaza City residents run for shelter as they hear bombing. Israel had dropped leaflets warning people to leave the area.
Gaza City residents run for shelter as they hear bombing. Israel had dropped leaflets warning people to leave the area. LEFTERIS PITARAKIS / AP
Gaza City residents run for shelter as they hear bombing. Israel had dropped leaflets warning people to leave the area. Gallery: Israel agrees to 'humanitarian' pause in Gaza
GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip - Israel agreed to a five-hour "humanitarian" pause in its nine-day-old bombardment of Gaza that 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 Thursday from 10 a.m. under a U.N.-brokered plan to allow Palestinians to restock food, water, and other necessities. But it vowed to retaliate "firmly and decisively" if Hamas or other extremist groups launch attacks on Israel during that time.

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 could be delivered to Gaza, said U.N. deputy spokesman Farhan Haq. Serry will "urge the parties in Gaza to respect that pause," Haq said.

There was no word on whether there would be a similar lull from Palestinian extremists.

Israel previously had halted its fire for six hours Tuesday after Egypt put forward a cease-fire proposal that unraveled. Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri said Wednesday his group had formally rejected the plan, bemoaning what he called little support from the Arab world.

But Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas met Wednesday in Cairo with a senior official from Hamas to try to salvage the Egyptian proposal.

In Washington, President Obama said that the United States supported Egypt's continued efforts to restore the 2012 cease-fire and would 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. It did not provide more specifics, but the Gaza Interior Ministry's website said 30 houses, including those of senior Hamas leaders Mahmoud Zahar, Jamila Shanti, Fathi Hamas, and Ismail Ashkar, were targeted.

Zahar was a key figure in Hamas' violent takeover of Gaza in 2007, while the others were members of the Palestinian parliament elected in 2006. Many Hamas leaders have gone into hiding since Israel began its bombardment July 8 in response to rocket attacks from Gaza.

Gaza health official Ashraf al-Kidra said the Palestinian death toll rose to 222, with 1,670 wounded. Only one Israeli has died in the conflict - a civilian distributing food to soldiers in southern Israel on Tuesday evening - largely because of the effectiveness of Israel's Iron Dome air-defense system in downing incoming rockets.

The four boys, who were cousins ages 9 to 11, were killed on the beach beside a coastal road west of Gaza City, Kidra said. Seven others - adults and children - were wounded in the strike, which Palestinian human-rights activist Khalil Abu Shamalla and Palestinian health officials said came from an Israeli naval vessel.

Hussam Abadallah, a waiter at the beachside al-Deera hotel, said the strike happened about 4 p.m.

A witness who identified himself only as Abu Ahmed said the boys were scavenging for scrap metal when a first shell hit a nearby shipping container used in the past by Hamas security forces. He said the boys fled but a rocket "hit all of them."

Abadallah said he saw "white smoke coming from a small room, like a shack, belonging to one of the fishermen not far from the fishing port."

He said he then saw the boys running.

"We started shouting at them, 'Run! Run here!' then a shell from the sea landed behind them," Abadallah said.

Some journalists dining at the hotel jumped from the terrace and helped five children bleeding from shrapnel get to safety in the hotel, he added.

"I will never forget these horrible images," he said.

Cellphone video circulated on Facebook showed the small, bloodied bodies in the sand. One dead boy was facedown, with his legs at a sharp angle.

The Israeli army said in a statement it was "carefully investigating" the matter. It said that the target of the naval attack was "Hamas terrorist operatives" and that civilian casualties were "a tragic outcome."

It said the army "has no intention of harming civilians dragged by Hamas into the reality of urban combat."

The boys' uncle, Abdel Kareem Baker, 41, raged at Israel after the attack.

"It's a cold-blooded massacre," he said. "It's a shame how come they didn't identify them as kids with all of the advanced technology they claim they're using."

Israel's security cabinet approved a call-up of 8,000 additional reservists, according to an Israeli official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The army said 45,000 reservists had already been summoned - a sign that Israel was ramping up its threat to carry out a ground invasion.

Ibrahim Barzak and Daniel Estrin Associated Press
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