Israelis edging closer to cease-fire agreement in Gaza

    * Story Highlights
    * U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon calls for immediate cease-fire
    * Two children killed in Israeli artillery attack at a U.N. school north of 
Gaza City
    * Israel's security cabinet set to meet Saturday to discuss plans to end 
    * Israel, U.S. sign agreement designed to stop arms smuggling into Gaza

(CNN) -- Two children were killed in an Israeli artillery attack at a U.N. 
school north of Gaza City early Saturday, an attack that illustrated the 
crucial need for the rumored cease-fire diplomats have been negotiating, a 
United Nations official said.

"This yet again illustrates that there is no place safe in the Gaza Strip," 
said Chris Gunness, a U.N. spokesman. "This fighting has to stop because 
innocent people, women and children, who are taking refuge in neutral U.N. 
buildings are discovering that there is nowhere safe."

Speaking in Beirut on Saturday, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon reiterated 
his call for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza during a speech at the Lebanese 
parliament, where he cited heavy civilian casualties.

"The level of violence in Gaza is unprecedented," the U.N. chief said. "The 
Israeli aerial and land offensives against Hamas targets are inflicting heavy 
civilian casualties, widespread destruction and tremendous suffering for the 
entire region."

Israel's security cabinet is scheduled to meet Saturday to vote on the basics 
of a plan that could end the fighting in Gaza, as movement toward a cease-fire 
seemed to be picking up steam on multiple fronts.

The meeting in Jerusalem, which local media were reporting Friday, would come a 
day after Israeli and U.S. diplomats signed an agreement designed to stop arms 
smuggling into the Palestinian territory.

Ending the smuggling would be another potential step toward peace -- addressing 
one of Israel's key justifications for a three-week offensive that has claimed 
more than 1,000 lives -- many of them Palestinian civilians.

In Washington, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Israeli Foreign 
Minister Tzipi Livni signed a memorandum of understanding that would prompt an 
international effort to stem the flow of weapons and explosives into Gaza. 
VideoWatch efforts to curb arms smuggling by Hamas »

The agreement outlines a plan to share information and provide technical 
assistance to keep weapons out of the hands of Hamas, which Israel, the United 
States and others consider a terrorist organization.

Rice said the steps -- which include blocking arms from Iran into Gaza, working 
together to identify ships carrying weapons and sharing technology to stop the 
building of tunnels from Egypt to Gaza -- would be significant in keeping 
militants unarmed.

"The United States is reaching out to its partners as well. Together, the steps 
that we and other members of the international community can take will 
contribute to a durable cease-fire," she said, noting that "there must be an 
international consensus that Gaza never be used as a launching pad against 
Israeli cities."

Livni said that ending the fighting in Gaza wouldn't be "achieved by agreements 
with terror, but with effective arrangements against it" -- a unified effort by 
the international community. She said a "durable" end to hostilities requires a 
stop to weapons smuggling into Gaza.

For its part, Hamas says a cease-fire alone is not enough. VideoWatch a report 
on aid shortages to Gaza »

"We are working in every direction so we can achieve our objectives in stopping 
the aggression, lifting the blockade, opening the crossings, and the 
compensation of our people and the rebuilding of the Gaza strip," said Hamas 
delegation spokesman Salah Bardwill.

Israeli Defense Ministry official Amos Gilad remained in Cairo on Friday, 
discussing a cease-fire proposal. A Hamas delegation is also in the Egyptian 
capital, talking with leaders there who are trying to hammer out a temporary 

Other diplomatic efforts include U.N. Secretary-General Ban's ongoing trip 
through the region. Ban has called for an immediate cease-fire and said he is 
pleased with Egypt for hosting the talks and acting as an intermediary between 
Hamas and Israel.

The state of Qatar also held an emergency summit Friday in an attempt to find a 
unified Arab voice on Gaza. The meeting brought together some Arab and Muslim 
leaders including the presidents of Iran and Syria and the leader of Hamas, 
Khaled Meshaal.

Friday evening, the United Nations' general assembly voted 142-4 to call on 
Israel to abide by a January 8 resolution by the U.N. Security Council.

The resolution, which called for an immediate cease-fire by both sides in the 
conflict, was universally ignored. VideoWatch opinions from the iReport 
community »

Israel and the United States were among the countries voting against Friday's 

Meanwhile, fighting raged on in north and south Gaza on Friday, the 21st day of 
Israel's military operation.

Israel's military reported firing on more than 25 Hamas targets, including 
Hamas fighters with rocket launchers, bunkers containing weapons and a tent 
with Hamas operatives inside.

The Israelis said Hamas launched at least 20 rockets into southern Israel, 
wounding five civilians.

A CNN crew late Thursday was able to make its way into Gaza from Egypt -- an 
effort that has been difficult for foreign journalists with Israel tightly 
controlling access through its border. Friday, the crew got a firsthand look at 
the toll three weeks of air strikes and ground attacks have had.

"You are doing a lot of work as a medical staff and, at the end of time, you 
lose the patient," said Egyptian doctor Mohamed Shama, who was working Friday 
at the Ysif Najjar Hospital in Rafah, near the Gaza-Egypt border.

Shama was working on a patient named Ala'a, who he said had taken shrapnel to 
the eye, chest, lungs and intestines. It was not clear whether the patient was 
a civilian or a Hamas militant. VideoWatch Shama fight to save the patient »

Shama said he had seen 12 patients die Thursday and Friday, and as he prepared 
to operate on Ala'a, he said the man's chances of survival were slim.

"You cannot leave the patient on the ground bleeding until death; you have two 
choices -- doing seven hours of work and lose the patient, or let him die."

More than 1,000 Palestinians, including hundreds of women and children, have 
been killed since the offensive began, according to medical sources in Gaza. 
Thirteen Israelis, 10 of them soldiers, have been killed, according to the 
Israeli military.

CNN's Ben Wedeman, Paula Hancocks, Elise Labott and Caroline Faraj contributed 
to this report.

All AboutHamas • Israel • Gaza • Ban Ki-moon • Condoleezza Rice
Links referenced within this article

Watch efforts to curb arms smuggling by Hamas »
Watch a report on aid shortages to Gaza »
Watch opinions from the iReport community »
Watch Shama fight to save the patient »
Ban Ki-moon
Condoleezza Rice

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