GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Israel resumed its Gaza offensive Wednesday, bombing heavily around suspected smuggling tunnels near the border with Egypt after a three-hour lull to allow in humanitarian aid. Hamas responded with a rocket barrage.
Despite the heavy fighting, strides were made on the diplomatic front, with the United States throwing its weight behind a deal being brokered by France and Egypt.
Although the Security Council failed to reach an agreement on a cease-fire resolution, Egypt's United Nations ambassador, Maged Abdelaziz, said representatives of Israel, Hamas and the Palestinian Authority have agreed to meet separately with Egyptian officials in Cairo today.
Israeli airstrikes killed 29 Palestinians Wednesday after leaflets were dropped warning residents to leave the area "because Hamas uses your houses to hide and smuggle military weapons."
The casualties brought the total Palestinian death toll during Israel's 12-day assault to 688. Ten Israelis have been killed, including three civilians.
More than 5,000 people have fled the border area, seeking refuge at two U.N. schools turned into temporary shelters.
The Israeli army, which has refused to allow journalists into Gaza, permitted two TV teams to accompany soldiers on patrol for the first time. The footage showed soldiers walking through a deserted street in an unidentified location in Gaza.
Hamas, meanwhile, fired rockets, though at a slower pace than on previous days, hitting the towns of Ashkelon and Beersheba with the sort of longer-range missiles never seen before this war. Rockets were still hitting the cities after midnight, but there were no immediate reports of injuries.
The Israeli Cabinet formally decided on Wednesday to push ahead with the offensive while also pursuing a cease-fire option. Israel also rejected Hamas' call to open the border crossings.
Diplomatic moves: The Security Council failed to agree on action to end the escalating crisis in Gaza on Wednesday, but the U.S. threw its weight behind a cease-fire initiative and Egypt announced it will host separate talks with Israel and Hamas on the proposal.
Latin America: Opposition to Israel's invasion is heating up throughout Latin America. Venezuela has expelled Israel's ambassador. Guatemala and Colombia have called on Israel to stop fighting and begin immediate peace talks. Demonstrators in Argentina, El Salvador and Bolivia have condemned the invasion. Brazil is sending aid to victims.
Network news: ABC, CBS and NBC haven't sent their top news anchors to the Middle East to cover Israel's conflict with Hamas. That stands in contrast to 2006, when each network sent their biggest names to cover Israel's war with Hezbollah. The networks cited a busy news period and restrictions placed by Israel on access to the fighting. CNN sent Anderson Cooper to Israel, but he returned Wednesday partly because of those restrictions.
In other news
School toll rises: Facts remained murky Wednesday on the Israeli shelling of a U.N. school that relief officials said left 43 Palestinians dead and almost 150 injured. Israel said troops responded to mortar fire from militants, while the Gaza director for the U.N. relief agency said there were no militants at the school.
Latin America: Opposition to Israel's invasion is heating up in Latin America. Venezuela has expelled Israel's ambassador. Guatemala and Colombia have called on Israel to stop fighting and begin peace talks. Demonstrators in Argentina, El Salvador and Bolivia have condemned the invasion.
Network news: ABC, CBS and NBC haven't sent their top news anchors to the Mideast to cover the conflict. That's in contrast to 2006, when all three sent their biggest names to cover Israel's war with Hezbollah.