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People Evacuate Gaza Strip As Tensions Increase


This is a WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Arun Rath in for Rachel Martin. The international community is trying to resolve the bloody conflict between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Yet today, the crisis is getting worse, not better. People are evacuating the Gaza Strip and Israel has made its first ground incursion. NPR's Ari Shapiro's in Jerusalem and joins us with the latest. Hi Ari.


RATH: So we've seen Israeli tanks and troops gathering along the Gaza border for the last few days. Can you describe the ground action that took place?

SHAPIRO: Right. Until now, this had been entirely an air war. so this is a significant shift. But it is not yet an all-out invasion that many fear. This morning Israeli troops landed in Gaza from the sea. And according to reports, it was a brief deployment but Israel is warning that a much larger campaign could be soon to come. It's not clear whether that will be limited to more air strikes or whether it will be a larger ground offensive.

RATH: Israel has told some people in Gaza to leave. Who's been given that warning?

SHAPIRO: Well, in Northern Gaza, the Israeli Air Force dropped leaflets in certain neighborhoods, warning people to leave their homes. And throughout the Gaza Strip, people with foreign passports were told evacuate altogether. That is a big process - one that's expected to last all day today. And meanwhile, the damage to Gaza has been increasing. Last night, Israeli airstrikes destroyed a mosque. The military says it was being used to store weapons. And according to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, 174 Palestinians have been killed so far. The agency says 70 percent are civilians and near a third are children. Meanwhile, Hamas keeps sending hundreds of rockets across the border into Israel. Some have destroyed homes and buildings. Several people have been seriously wounded. But so far, there are no Israeli deaths that we know of.

RATH: Meanwhile, the international community today is stepping up efforts to end the conflict. What's happening there?

SHAPIRO: Well, yesterday the U.N. Security Council issued a statement calling for a cease-fire. And today, foreign ministers from Germany, France and the U.K. are meeting with Secretary of State John Kerry in Vienna to discuss the crisis. That meeting's happening on the sidelines of a summit about Iran. Germany's foreign minister is reportedly flying to Israel to help broker a cease-fire. Israel says it will not succumb to international pressure. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says Israel will continue this military campaign until its objectives are met - mainly until Israel stops coming under rocket fire from Gaza.

RATH: So Ari, is there an end in sight?

SHAPIRO: Well, for some context, the last conflict between Israel and Hamas in 2012 lasted eight days. We are now in day six of this conflict. In the past, a cease-fire has often been brokered by Egypt, but right now Egypt seems less enthusiastic than it's been in the past for about playing that role. Many people are looking to Turkey. And Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas has been steadily calling for peace, keeps reaching out to Turkey. But Abbas does not seem to have much weight with either Israel or Hamas right now. And neither side is making noises about wrapping this up anytime soon. On the contrary, things seemed to be getting more intense by the day.

RATH: NPR's Ari Shapiro. Ari, thank you.

SHAPIRO: Good to talk with you, Arun. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.