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Middle East

Israel halts bombings for three hours, France condemns strike on UN school

Article published on the 2009-01-07 Latest update 2009-01-07 11:16 TU

A Palestinian firefighter uses a hose to clean blood on a street in Gaza (Photo: Reuters)

A Palestinian firefighter uses a hose to clean blood on a street in Gaza
(Photo: Reuters)

Israel on Wednesday halted air-strikes on Gaza for three hours, annoucing that it would do so every day. Earlier, France condemned the Israeli air-strike on a UN school in Gaza, in which at least 42 people were killed. Israel's security cabinet meets Wednesday, as Prime MInister Ehud Olmert says that he has not yet decided whether to go to Cairo to meet Palestinian officials as part of an Egyptian peace plan.

Israel announced Wednesday that it will suspend bombings every day between 1 pm and 4 pm to allow aid into the area. Earlier, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said a humanitarian corridor would be opened.

Earlier French officials condemned the bombing of a UN school Tuesday.

"We learn with consternation of the shelling of a UNRWA school in Gaza, which killed several dozen civilians, including women and children, who had fled to escape the fighting," Foreign Ministry official Eric Chevallier said.

He added that France "demands that international humanitarian law be respected, along with the premises of the United Nations and other international organisations."

The strike on a school in Jabaliya was one of three against UN-run schools. UN chief Ban Ki-Moon declared them "totally unacceptable", while UN staff called for an independent investigation.

The Israeli army claimed that gunmen had fired on its forces from within the school and that Hamas "terror operatives" were among the dead.

"Following an initial investigation, we are 99.9 per cent sure that there were no militants or militant activities in the school and the school compound," UNRWA official Christopher Gunness said.

After talks with French President Nicolas Sarkozy in Cairo, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak put forward a three-point peace plan, which has been welcomed by the UN and the US.

Its proposals include:

* an "immediate ceasefire for a specific period" to allow humanitarian aid into Gaza;

* an invitation to Israel to meet Palestinian leaders in Egypt for talks on securing Gaza's borders;

* a new attempt at reconciliation between Palestinian factions with Egyptian mediation.

A Palestinian opposition grouup in Jordan, Hammam Saeed, has called for a boycott of French products after Sarkozy's visit to the region.

It accuses France of "open hostitility to Muslims and Arabs and total bias towards Israel" after Sarkozy on Monday declared that Hamas is "to blame for the suffering of the Palestinians".

Israeli tanks and bulldozers are reported to have pulled out of the southern Gaza city of Khan Yuins, after spending 24 hours there.

Medical sources say that 680 Palestinians, including 215 children, have now been killed during the Israeli campaign. Over 2,590 people are reported wounded.