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Israel agrees to ‘humanitarian’ pause in Gaza

– Israel agreed to a five-hour “humanitarian” pause in its 9-day-old bombardment of Gaza that has killed more than 200 Palestinians, including four boys struck on a beach Wednesday by shells fired from a navy ship.

Israel said it would hold its fire at 10 a.m. today under a U.N.-brokered plan to allow Palestinians to restock food, water and other necessities. But it vowed to retaliate “firmly and decisively” if Hamas or other militant groups launch attacks on Israel during that time.

Robert Serry, the U.N. special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, had asked Israel to agree to a “unilateral humanitarian pause” so that the supplies can be delivered to Gaza, U.N. deputy spokesman Farhan Haq said. Serry will “urge the parties in Gaza to respect that pause,” Haq said.

There was no word on whether there would be a similar lull from Palestinian militants.

Israel previously had halted its fire for six hours Tuesday after Egypt put forward a cease-fire proposal that unraveled. Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri said Wednesday his group had formally rejected the plan, bemoaning what he called little support from the Arab world. But Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas met Wednesday in Cairo with a senior official from Hamas to try to salvage the Egyptian proposal.

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