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17 Jan, 2009 15:21

Gaza: truce proposal to be discussed

Israel is close to deciding on a unilateral ceasefire to end the violence in Gaza. On Saturday, the 12-member Israeli Security cabinet will discuss an Egyptian proposal for a truce.

 On Friday, Israeli foreign minister Tsipi Livni signed an accord with Condoleezza Rice, aimed at stemming arms smuggling into Gaza.

This was a key demand of the Israeli side, which now says it's entering the final act of its operation in Gaza. 

 The ceasefire deal proposed by Egypt suggests a ten-day pause in fighting.

However Israeli forces would still remain in Gaza and the border crossings would remain closed until security arrangements are made to prevent Hamas from re-arming itself.

Though, a Hamas spokesman has said they will continue fighting if none of their ceasefire demands are met.

UN chief Ban-Ki Moon is also in the region meeting with western-backed Palestinian leadership in Ramallah.

“The fighting must stop now. We have no time to lose. If they take some more time there will be more casualties, more loss of human life more destruction. I would urge again a unilateral declaration of a ceasefire would be necessary at this time,” he said.

Meanwhile, the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) has said Israel's actions in Gaza should be investigated as possible war crimes.

The fighting has claimed over 1,100 lives among Palestinians, roughly half of them civilians according to Palestinian medics.

On Saturday, it has been reported that an Israeli tank shell killed two boys in the town of Beit Lahiya when it hit a UN school.

“This morning there was a very severe and devastating incident when a UN school with 1,600 civilians was hit, and as a result two boys aged five and seven were killed. The Israeli Defence Forces knew that hundreds of people have taken refuge in this school. They were perfectly aware of its coordinates. When you have a direct hit like this on a UN school, there needs to be an investigation to see whether a war crime has been committed,” UNRWA spokesman Johan Ericsson said. 

RT’s sister channel under fire

Meanwhile, a journalist at RT’s sister channel Rusiya Al-Yaum says he and his family are living in fear as homes in their neighbourhood come under fire. Nazar Alyan is stuck at his home and is taking refuge in the bathroom over fears of being attacked. He says Israeli tanks have been ravaging the city of Gaza, aiming mainly at civilian targets.

The channel's office building was hit 11 days ago. Nobody was hurt during the attack.

Palestinians worried over families in Gaza

Meanwhile some living in the West Bank are agonising over their families remaining in Gaza.

A year-and-a-half ago Wael Qudeih was brought to the West Bank after Hamas fighters broke his legs.

At that time, violent street clashes between Hamas and Fatah were threatening to tear Gaza apart. Hamas eventually took over Gaza and many Fatah supporters, like Wael, fled to the West Bank.

Now in Ramallah, Wael divides his days between hospital and home. But he’s never far from the phone, desperately trying to get hold of his wife and two young children whom he hasn’t heard from since Israel began its operation in Gaza three weeks ago.

“Many times I call but I cannot get my family. The line is always busy. I’m starting to think that something bad has happened. So I keep dialing my sister’s number, my wife’s number, my family in law’s number – but I don’t get them. It’s an awful, awful feeling,” Qudeih said.

Gaza refugee Nasreen Mustafa came to Ramallah to find work. She’s managed to get in touch with her friends and family in Gaza – but their news is often more distressing than comforting.

“Majdi, how are you and how is the situation there?” Mustafa asks her friend Majdi Salim over the phone.

“Right now the soldiers are about 100 metres from here. At night we’re so afraid because there’s always bombings and attacks. We all sleep in one bedroom. The children sleep with us because they’re so afraid… but at least we’re still alive,” Majdi Salim replies.

Before the war Majdi worked as a journalist, but now he prefers to stay at home with his family. Staying alive has become more important than getting the story.

He has again urged both sides to accept a unilateral ceasefire. But Israel has rejected the idea and Hamas is giving mixed signals about its plans.