Thu, Jan 08, 2009 - Page 1 News List

Israel announces brief suspension of attacks in Gaza

AGENCIES DAMASCUS, GAZA CITY, GENEVA, UNITED NATIONS, BEIRUT AND

Palestinians pray yesterday near the bodies of victims from an Israeli strike on a UN-run school yesterday during their funeral in the Jabalia refugee camp, northern Gaza Strip.

PHOTO: AFP

A member of Hamas’ politburo said yesterday that the Palestinian movement would not fire any rockets toward Israel while the Jewish state suspends its bombing of Gaza.

“I do not expect that any rockets will be launched during the three-hour period,” the Damascus-based Mussa Abu Marzuk, one of Hamas’ most senior leaders, was quoted as saying by his spokesman.

The Israeli army had earlier announced it would suspend its bombing of Gaza between 11am and 2pm daily to allow the passage of humanitarian aid, but would respond to rocket fire.

Israel ordered the temporary halt as it faced growing condemnation over the mounting death toll in its war on Hamas. But the Israeli Cabinet also debated expanding the military offensive aimed at ending Hamas cross-border rocket attacks, while considering an Egyptian ceasefire initiative given new urgency by strikes on three UN schools in which dozens died.

John Ging, head of Gaza operations for the UN Relief and Works Agency, confirmed at least 30 people died and 55 were injured, five critically, when three artillery tank shells landed at the perimeter of a UN school where hundreds of civilians had taken refuge on the 11th day of the Israeli onslaught in Gaza.

He said the “indications are that these strikes originated from Israeli weapons.”

Most of the casualties in the attack at the UN school in the northern Gaza town of Jebaliya, where some 350 people had taken refuge, were outside the school premises though there were some inside as well, Ging said. Other officials in Gaza said 34 to 36 people died.

A senior Israeli government official dampened hopes that Israel would soon agree to a ceasefire under the plan proposed by Egypt, however.

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak “has instructed the army to prepare for the third stage of the operation,” the official said. “We can’t see the operation stopping in the coming days. We still have to study the details of the Egyptian proposal.”

In Geneva, the UN Human Rights Council said yesterday it would hold a special session tomorrow on the situation in the Gaza Strip at the request of Islamic and developing countries as well as Russia.

The formal request — from 29 members of the 47-nation body — says the session should discuss “the grave violations of human rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territory including the recent aggression in the Occupied Gaza Strip.”

Resolutions issued by the council are not binding.

In Beirut, Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah on Tuesday warned that “all possibilities” were open against Israel as he gave a fiery speech on the Jewish state’s offensive in Gaza.

“We have to act as though all possibilities are real and open with Israel and we must always be ready for any eventuality,” said Nasrallah, whose Shiite militant party fought a devastating war with Israel in 2006.

He warned that the 2006 war, which killed some 1,200 mostly civilian Lebanese, would be “but a walk in the park” compared to what awaits Israel if it launches a new offensive on Lebanon.

Also yesterday, Israel expelled Venezuela’s charge d’affaires in response to the expulsion of the Israeli ambassador to Caracas over the war in Gaza, a foreign ministry spokesman said yesterday.

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