Thursday, January 8th 2009
BY MATTHEW KALMAN in Jerusalem and HELEN KENNEDY in New York
DAILY NEWS WRITERS
Israeli armored personnel carriers resume fire on the border with Gaza.
A ball of fire rises into the night sky following an Israeli air strike in Rafah near the Gaza Strip's border with Egypt on Jan. 7, 2009.
The guns of Gaza fell quiet Wednesday when Israel gave besieged Palestinians a three-hour "humanitarian" bombing lull to look for food and water before resuming the air strikes.
Hopes for a more permanent truce flickered to life with the announcement that Israel, Hamas and the Palestinian Authority will meet for talks today in Cairo.
Hamas was considering a U.S.-backed plan okayed by Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
In southern Gaza, Israel Defense Forces jets dropped leaflets urging thousands of civilians to flee their homes immediately ahead of a new bombardment of tunnels along the Egyptian border.
"Because Hamas uses your houses to hide and smuggle military weapons, the IDF will attack the area," the flyer warned.
About 29 Palestinians were killed Wednesday in the air strikes, which continued into the morning, with officials also reporting clashes between Israeli armored forces and Hamas militants in southern Gaza.
The Palestinians have nowhere to run. "There is no safe space in the Gaza Strip - no safe haven, no bomb shelters and the borders are closed - making this one of the rare conflicts where civilians have no place to flee," said Maxwell Gaylard, the United Nations humanitarian chief for the Palestinian territories.
About 5,000 people huddled in two UN schools transformed into shelters as the strikes began. On Tuesday, Israeli tanks fired on a UN school in Jabaliya, killing 43 refugees taking shelter there. Israel claimed Hamas militants had fired on them from the school. A UN spokesman said, "Following an initial investigation, we are 99.9% sure that there were no militants or militant activities in the school."
Palestinian health officials said the death toll from Operation Cast Lead had risen to more than 700, with 219 of the dead children and 89 women. Ten Israeli soldiers have died in the 12-day campaign. The IDF said Wednesday four of them were killed by "friendly fire" from IDF tanks.
Meanwhile, Hamas fired 20 rockets Wednesday, wounding two Israelis.
As the 1 p.m. start time for the ceasefire approached, about 80 trucks rumbled out from UN warehouses to distribute food, medical supplies and fuel.
The Red Cross restocked the central Shifa Hospital in Gaza City with anesthetics, bandages and basic medicine.
Briefly, the battered streets came alive. Ashraf al-Issawi, a father of eight standing in a long bread line in Gaza City, said it was the first time he had ventured more than a few yards from his apartment for days.
"We have run out of rice and cooking gas. I have to buy bread or we will have nothing to eat," he said.
International leaders working to end the fighting hoped the lull - which Israel promised would happen for three hours every other day - was the first step toward a permanent ceasefire.