In Gaza, A Brief Humanitarian Cease-Fire
In Gaza Wednesday, the guns fell silent for about three hours as the Israeli army and Hamas paused their fighting to allow humanitarian aid into the territory.
NPR's Mike Shuster, who is in Jerusalem, says that reports started circulating Wednesday morning that there might be a short truce, but the cease-fire was uncertain until about 12:30 p.m. At 2 p.m., he says, both Israel and Hamas stopped military operations.
"There was some sporadic gunfire in the first few minutes of that truce, but after 1:00, by and large, it held," Shuster tells Michele Norris.
Violence Resumes After Three Hours
Shuster says that during the next three hours, about 80 trucks from Israel crossed the border into Gaza with food, fuel and medical supplies. The lull also allowed Palestinians to get out of their houses to buy what they needed.
"This certainly wasn't enough time for the entire population to get what it needed, so there's going to be a repetition of this," Shuster says.
Initial reports suggested that there would be a lull in the violence at the same time everyday, but Israeli officials say the truce will be every other day, Shuster says.
After the three-hour break, violence resumed. Shuster says there are reports of significant bombardment in south Gaza. Israel, he says, has been dropping leaflets in Rafah, at the border with Egypt, telling residents to leave their homes by 8 a.m. Thursday.
"Apparently hundreds of families have left their homes already," he says. "It's an indication that Israel is going to target those areas pretty heavily [Thursday] morning. And, of course, there have been more Hamas rockets into Israel."
Meanwhile, Egypt and France tried to put together a cease-fire initiative, which includes a plan to station a small international force along the Egypt-Gaza border.
In Paris, French President Nicolas Sarkozy released a statement saying Israel and the Palestinian Authority had accepted the plan. A short while later, however, the Israeli government issued a statement saying though it welcomes the proposal, it might accept it only if hostile fire from Hamas is halted. Hamas has not signed on to the deal.
"Israel, it seems, doesn't want to commit to any deal that leaves Hamas in a position to rearm and begin the rocketing of Israel again," Shuster says. "And so the Egyptian-French proposal is trying to address how to prevent the smuggling of additional arms into Gaza through those tunnels on the border with Egypt."
Meanwhile, the Israeli government's Security Cabinet voted on the possibility of moving into Phase 3 of the military operation in Gaza. (Phase 1 was the air campaign, and Phase 2 was the beginning of the land operation.)
"Phase 3 would be pushing into the more heavily populated areas of Gaza," Shuster says. "Perhaps it's a good sign — there were a lot of indications that the Security Cabinet of the Israeli government was going to authorize Phase 3, but [that] they haven't may mean that they are wanting to see what happens on the diplomatic side."
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