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U.N. Agency Suspends Work In Gaza

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

This is All Things Considered from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris. The Bush administration, key Arab states, and European powers have reached an agreement at the United Nations to call for an immediate, endurable cease-fire between Israel and Hamas militants in Gaza. The Security Council is voting tonight on the resolution hammered out after lengthy negotiations. The deal was reached on the same day that the U.N.'s aid agency in Gaza had to suspend its operations because one of its truck drivers was killed at a time when there was supposed to be a lull in fighting.

BLOCK: So far the death toll among Palestinians has risen well above 700. Three thousand have been wounded. At least 11 Israelis have died. Among Israel's key bombing targets are the tunnels between Gaza and Egypt. NPR's Mike Shuster reports from Jerusalem.

MIKE SHUSTER: No humanitarian aid reached Gaza today even though Israel again halted its military operations for three hours this afternoon. Shells from an Israeli tank hit a truck carrying humanitarian supplies for UNRWA, the U.N. Relief and Works Agency. The driver was killed.

Late this afternoon, the agency announced it was suspending its operations. Christopher Gunness, a spokesman for UNRWA, said the truck convoy had been approved by the Israeli military. He wants to know what happened.

Mr. CHRISTOPHER GUNNESS (Spokesman, UNRWA): An aid worker is killed by two Israeli tank shells. Did something go wrong? Was it targeting, as the company believes? Was it deliberately brought under fire? I don't know the answer. It disturbs me deeply that a human being contracted effectively by UNRWA, working in a company that was contracted by UNRWA, has lost his life.

SHUSTER: As a result, UNRWA was unable to deliver any aid to Gaza. This was the second day that Israel stopped its military activities to permit delivery of humanitarian supplies. So far it hasn't worked well and has only frustrated aid workers, like John Ging, an UNRWA official in Gaza.

Mr. JOHN GING (Director of Operations in Gaza, UNRWA): Why three hours? Why not four, five, 24 hours? Why do the military get 21 hours out of 24 for their work, and we are only given three for ours?

SHUSTER: Before the humanitarian break this afternoon, Israel intensified its bombardment, especially in the southern sector of Gaza. The focus last night and today appeared to be the extensive network of tunnels along Gaza's southern border with Egypt, tunnels that had been used to bring weapons into Gaza. This morning, fear spread that the war might spill over to Israel's north after three rockets landed in the Israeli city of Nahariya about eight miles south of the Lebanese border on the Mediterranean.

Israel responded with artillery fire against targets in Lebanon. Initially, many worried that the rockets were launched by Hezbollah which fought a war with Israel in 2006, but Hezbollah denied it launched the rockets. Although Israel's forces have been on alert in the north since the war in Gaza began, the government of Israel did not seem overly concerned by the rockets, said Isaac Herzog, Israel's social welfare minister.

Mr. ISAAC HERZOG (Minister of Welfare and Social Services, Israel): We look at it as a local event, as something which was predicted. And right now, we don't have any specific - we're not making any specific effort in this respect.

SHUSTER: Israel sent representatives to Cairo today to discuss the cease-fire agreement proposed earlier this week by the presidents of Egypt and France. The Israeli government said it welcomed the initiative, but wanted to know more. Dan Gillerman, a former Israeli ambassador to the United Nations, said the proposal needed to address Israel's security concerns seriously before it could sign on and withdraw its troops from Gaza.

Mr. DAN GILLERMAN (Former Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations): We will not leave until this is a real agreement. And what we will expect is no more missiles, no more terror, no more smuggling. We need international guarantees. We need the Egyptians to cooperate. If all that happens, believe me, we will be very happy to leave Gaza. We had no intention of going in there in the first place.

SHUSTER: Israeli officials are saying they are prepared to expand military operations in Gaza if the diplomacy fails. In a statement released in Damascus today, Hamas said the proposal was too risky for the Palestinian resistance. Hamas' leaders in Gaza are believed to be more open to cease-fire negotiations. Mike Shuster, NPR News, Jerusalem. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Mike Shuster
Mike Shuster is an award-winning diplomatic correspondent and roving foreign correspondent for NPR News. He is based at NPR West, in Culver City, CA. When not traveling outside the U.S., Shuster covers issues of nuclear non-proliferation and weapons of mass destruction, terrorism, and the Pacific Rim.