Hamas agrees to five-hour Gaza ceasefire
Hamas agreed early Thursday to join a temporary Gaza ceasefire requested by the United Nations on humanitarian grounds after Israeli strikes have killed more than 200 Palestinians, including four boys struck on a beach Wednesday by shells fired from a navy ship.
The deaths raised the overall toll in nine days of violence in Gaza to 213.
“The group agrees to a ceasefire for five hours,” starting from 10:00 am (0700 GMT) Thursday, Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zukhri said in a statement, Agence France-Presse reported.
On Wednesday, Israel agreed to implement a five-hour “humanitarian” pause in its 9-day-old bombardment of Gaza. Israel said it would hold its fire Thursday from 10 a.m. (0700 GMT, 3 a.m. EDT) under a U.N.-brokered plan to allow Palestinians to restock supplies.
But it vowed to retaliate “firmly and decisively” if Hamas or other militant 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 food, water and other necessities 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.
There was no word on whether there would be a similar lull from Palestinian militants, who fired at least 90 rockets at Israel on Wednesday and vowed not to stop until their demands were met.
Obama supports Egypt’s efforts
Meanwhile, U.S. President Barack Obama said on Wednesday he supports Egypt’s attempt to reach a ceasefire between Israel and the Palestinians to head off more deadly clashes.
“The Israeli people and the Palestinian people don’t want to live like this,” Reuters quoted him as saying.
He said he would continue to encourage a diplomatic outcome.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas met in Cairo with a senior official from the Hamas militant group to try to salvage an Egyptian ceasefire proposal on ending the conflict.
The Egyptian plan had collapsed shortly after it was announced late Monday. Abu Zuhri said Wednesday Hamas had issued its formal rejection of the plan, and he bemoaned what he called little support from the Arab world.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said Hamas would pay a high price for rejecting the Egyptian plan.
EU urges de-escalation
EU leaders on Wednesday condemned the firing of rockets into Israel while urging the Jewish state to “act proportionately” and Hamas to agree to a ceasefire.
Voicing “great concern” over continued violence in Israel and Gaza, EU leaders said the bloc “condemns the firing of rockets from Gaza into Israel and the indiscriminate targeting of civilians.”
“Israel has the right to protect its population (but) in doing so it must act proportionately and ensure the protection of civilians at all times,” a European Union statement added.
“The European Council calls on both sides to de-escalate the situation, to end the violence, to end the suffering of the civilian populations notably by allowing access to humanitarian assistance, and return to calm.”
Welcoming regional efforts to broker a truce, notably by Israel, the EU “calls on Hamas to agree on such a ceasefire,” it added.
Israel bombed 150 Gaza targets
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 other three were members of the Palestinian parliament elected in 2006. Many Hamas leaders have gone into hiding since the beginning of the Israeli offensive.