Israel Declares Short 'Recess' In Gaza Fighting

Israel on Wednesday put military operations in the Gaza Strip on hold for three hours to allow humanitarian aid to reach the territory's beleaguered residents and said it was willing to consider an international plan for a broader cease-fire agreement.

"It's a three-hour opportunity for ordinary Palestinian civilians who are not connected to the Hamas and terrorist activity to reequip themselves with basic supplies," Israeli Defense Force Capt. Elie Isaacson told NPR.

Israel's Ministry of Defense said Wednesday that the three-hour "recess in offensive operations" would be observed every other day.

The deputy leader of Hamas said Wednesday his fighters would not launch any missiles at Israeli targets for the period of the pause.

"There will be no missile launching in these three hours," Moussa Abu Marzouk told Al Arabiya television.

Israel's military said it reserves the right to defend itself if the pause is broken.

An official from the International Committee of the Red Cross in Gaza told NPR he had not been informed about the truce.

More than 500 aid trucks have been shipped into Gaza since Israel's military operations began nearly two weeks ago. However, even when aid reaches Gaza, the fighting has often prevented officials from distributing it, leading to food shortages in some areas.

Meanwhile, Israeli officials said they were willing to discuss an offer from France and Egypt to broker a broader cease-fire agreement, but there was no immediate response from Hamas.

"We welcome the French-Egyptian initiative. We want to see it succeed," said Mark Regev, spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

But Regev added: "The talks continue on the basis of that initiative. A sustainable calm in the south will be based upon the total absence of hostile fire from Gaza into Israel and an effective arms embargo on Hamas that enjoys international support."

On Tuesday, Israeli mortar fire killed more than 40 Palestinian civilians who had sought refugee at two U.N. schools. Israel said its forces had been taking fire from near the schools. The U.N. agency responsible for the building has demanded an "impartial investigation" into the attack.

With criticism rising of the operation's spiraling civilian death toll and Gazans increasingly suffering the effects of nonstop airstrikes and shelling, Israel's military said it would open "humanitarian corridors" to allow aid supplies to reach Palestinians.

About 300 of the nearly 650 Palestinians killed in the nearly two-week long offensive are civilians, according to Palestinian and U.N. figures.

Israel has lost six soldiers since launching a ground offensive on Saturday. Four other Israelis have been killed by rocket fire, three of them civilians.

From NPR staff and wire reports.

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