As Israel Offensive Pushes Ahead, Hopes for Proposed Gaza Cease-Fire Fade

Israel hammered Gaza City with gunfire and air strikes Wednesday minutes after a three-hour cease-fire ended, and its security cabinet voted to push ahead with the ground offensive against Hamas, marring hopes that the French and Egyptian truce proposal would be finalized, the Times of London reported.

Israel agreed to principles of the Gaza cease-fire proposal, but has yet to iron out key details about how it would be implemented, senior Israeli officials told Reuters.

The proposal calls for an end to fighting as well as a drive to prevent Hamas militants from rearming, Israel's key condition, Reuters reported

"There is agreement on the principles but translating those principles into practical action is a challenge that is still ahead of us," a senior Israeli official said.

Earlier Wednesday, three hours of peace to allow aid to beseiged Palestinians came to an abrupt halt as a top Hamas official said the group was sticking to its demands and predicted additional violence with Israel.

Click to view photos from the conflict.

Israel said it needs guarantees that any cease-fire will halt rocket fire and prevent Hamas from rearming, while Hamas demands that Gaza's blockaded border crossings be opened.

Despite the reservations, the proposal offered by France and Egypt could mark the first sign of a possible exit from 12 days of bloodshed in Gaza, accompanied by continued Hamas rocket fire on southern Israel.

Israel will suspend its assault in the Gaza Strip from 1 to 4 p.m. local time (6 a.m. to 9 a.m. EST) each day to allow aid to flow through a humanitarian corridor it is setting up in the Hamas-ruled territory, a military source said on Wednesday.

In turn, Hamas said it will not launch any missiles at Israeli targets as the Jewish state puts on hold its military operation, the group's deputy leader said on Wednesday.

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

Israel said talks are still underway with Egypt over a cease-fire proposal for the Gaza Strip despite French President Nicolas Sarkozy's announcement that Israel and the Palestinian Authority accepted a U.S.-backed cease-fire plan for Gaza, Reuters reported.

A Hamas official in the Gaza Strip dismissed as irrelevant reports that the Palestinian Authority backed the Egyptian-French proposals, saying it was "still under discussion."

Israel Spokesman Mark Regev said Israel could accept the proposal if it halts "hostile fire" from Gaza and includes measures to prevent Hamas from rearming.

As Israel's leadership met in the morning in Tel Aviv, sounds of heavy gunfire and thick plumes of smoke engulfed the Zeitoun neighborhood east of Gaza City. Israel said it struck 40 Hamas targets during the hours of darkness. Gaza health officials said new strikes Wednesday morning killed eight people.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Tuesday called for an immediate end to fighting in the Gaza Strip during a meeting of the U.N. Security Council in New York.

Ban criticized both Israel for its bombardment of Gaza and Hamas for firing rockets into Israel and urged members to act "swiftly and decisively to put this crisis to an end."

A cease-fire initiative to halt the increasingly bloody Israeli offensive in Hamas-ruled Gaza won support from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called on rival sides to follow up on the proposal.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said the initiative seeks an immediate cease-fire by Israel and Palestinian factions for a specific period to allow secure corridors for delivery of humanitarian aid into Gaza and give Egypt time to continue efforts to reach a permanent cease-fire.

Egypt is inviting the warring Israeli and Palestinian sides for urgent meetings to resolve issues underlying the fighting, including securing Gaza's borders, reopening all crossings and lifting the Israeli "siege," Mubarak said.

The U.N. Security Council held a high-level emergency meeting late Tuesday as international pressure mounted for an end to the 11-day Israeli offensive in Gaza that has killed more than 670 Palestinians, about half of them civilians, and injured at least 2,500, according to U.N. and Palestinian officials.

Israel says it launched the air and ground attack to end Hamas rocketing that has traumatized southern Israel. Hamas, a militant Islamic group which the U.S. and Israel consider a terrorist organization, wrested control of Gaza from the Palestinian Authority in June 2007.

From 2000 to 2004, Hamas was responsible for killing nearly 400 Israelis and wounding more than 2,000 in 425 attacks, according to the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

From 2001 through May 2008, Hamas launched more than 3,000 Qassam rockets and 2,500 mortar attacks against Israeli targets.

At Tuesday's four hour council meeting, virtually every Arab speaker denounced the Security Council's failure to adopt a legally binding resolution to stop the Israeli offensive and demand a durable cease-fire.

Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal said the council's "deafening silence" placed "a big question mark" over its credibility "and the entire system of international security."

Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa said the Egyptian and French presidents launched their initiative, which the league's 22 members support, because of the council's procrastination.

"We do not see any contradiction between that initiative and the work of the Security Council," he said. "In fact, they both complement each other ... since our objective is the same."

To try to spur speedy council action, Libya formally circulated a revised Arab draft resolution Tuesday that, in party, calls for a cease-fire, the withdrawal of Israeli forces and the opening of all crossings into Gaza.

But the draft makes no mention of a key U.S. and Israeli demand — for border monitors to destroy tunnels that Hamas has used to smuggle arms since seizing control of Gaza. In fact, it never mentions Hamas by name.

The Security Council scheduled another meeting Wednesday morning.

Click here to read more on this story from the Times of London.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.