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Israel, Hamas agree to five-hour truce

Combined News Services

Israel agreed to a United Nations request for a temporary cease-fire on humanitarian grounds Wednesday even as it prepared its troops for a possible ground invasion.

The truce will last five hours starting at 10 a.m. local time today to allow civilians to resupply provisions, the army said in an emailed statement.

But any attacks launched at Israel during that time will be met "firmly and decisively," it said.

Hamas and other factions also agreed to a five-hour truce, Al-Jazeera reported, without saying how it obtained the information.

Al-Jazeera didn't identify the other factions.

The announcement came as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu indicated that an invasion was being considered, saying his country's top mission is to rid the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip of its weapons and end rocket attacks on the country.

"The most important thing vis-à-vis Gaza is to ensure that Gaza is demilitarized," Netanyahu said during a televised news conference.

Palestinian casualties from Israeli air raids on Gaza mounted to at least 212 with the deaths of four boys in an attack on a Gaza City beach, according to Gaza Health Ministry official Ashraf al-Qedra.

The boys, who were cousins ages 9 to 11, were killed on the beach beside a coastal road west of Gaza City, al-Qedra said.

Seven others -- adults and children -- were wounded in the strike, which Palestinian human rights activist Khalil Abu Shamalla and Palestinian health officials said came from an Israeli naval vessel.

A witness who identified himself only as Abu Ahmed said the boys were scavenging for scrap metal when a shell hit a nearby shipping container used in the past by Hamas security forces.

He said the boys fled but a second rocket "hit all of them." Abadallah said he saw "white smoke coming from a small room, like a shack, belonging to one of the fishermen not far from the fishing port." He said he then saw the boys running.

"We started shouting at them, 'Run, run here,' then a shell from the sea landed behind them," Abadallah said.

The Israeli army said in a statement it was "carefully investigating" the matter.

It said the target of the naval attack was "Hamas terrorist operatives" and that civilian casualties were "a tragic outcome." It said the army "has no intention of harming civilians dragged by Hamas into the reality of urban combat."

Israeli Radio said Netanyahu's government authorized the mobilization of 8,000 more reservists on top of 41,000 already called up, though officials declined to confirm the report.

Israeli planes have struck about 1,900 targets since last week and more than 1,361 rockets have been fired by Hamas, the military said. They've reached deeper into Israel than ever before, about 80 miles north of Gaza. This week Israel had its first direct fatality from the current round of fire.

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