Israel ordered a temporary halt to its military operations in Gaza for several hours Wednesday to allow aid to reach civilians in the territory through humanitarian corridors. Israel also says it is studying proposals for a ceasefire in Gaza, but fighting continues in the meantime.
The first test of the humanitarian corridors came Wednesday when the military said it stopped operations for several hours to facilitate the flow of aid into Gaza. Officials said they would consider further such temporary ceasefires in days to come. Hamas also agreed to stop firing during that time.
Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev said the aim is to allow aid to get to the people of Gaza.
"We have got a situation where the crossings have been opened and food stuffs and medicines have been entering Gaza, but because of the difficult combat situation there has been a problem with distribution and I think the idea of the corridors is to allow for a flow of both food stuffs and medicines inside the Gaza Strip so they will reach the people that we want them to reach," he said.
Aid officials welcome the corridors, but say it can only be a first step.
"A humanitarian corridor, yes please," said UN spokesman Christopher Gunness. "That's very good, thank you very much. But we need a ceasefire so people can come and collect the food from our food distribution centers. A humanitarian corridor, in and of itself, if you don't have a situation where people can come and collect food, is frankly not enough."
The agreement on such humanitarian corridors comes amid growing international concerns about civilian casualties from Israel's military operations in Gaza and a day after Israeli forces fired on several U.N. schools in Gaza, in one instance killing at least 30 people who had taken shelter in the school compound.
Israel launched its military operations 12 days ago in response, it said, to Hamas militants stepping up rocket attacks against Israel.
Medical officials in Gaza estimate that more than 650 Palestinians have been killed in Israeli attacks and over 2,500 injured, many of them civilians.
While diplomacy is stepped up, the fighting in Gaza continues. The Israeli military says its air force struck over 40 targets over night while ground forces clashed with armed militants and uncovered weapons caches, smuggling tunnels and stores of explosives. Hamas also continued to fire rockets into southern Israel.