Oren Discusses Attacks In Israel

Robert Siegel speaks with Israel's ambassador to the United States Michael Oren about the recent attacks on Israelis near Egypt.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host: This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host: And I'm Robert Siegel.

The conflict between Israel and Palestinian militant groups in Gaza turned more violent today. In the south of Israel, near the Red Sea port of Eilat, a series of terror attacks on civilian targets - cars and busses - claimed seven Israeli lives and injured around 30 people. Israel said the attacks stemmed from the Gaza Strip, which is controlled by the Islamist movement Hamas. And within hours, the Israelis launched a retaliatory air strike. Palestinians say that six people were killed in that strike.

Joining us now from Israel is that country's ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren. Welcome to the program once again.

Ambassador MICHAEL OREN: Robert, always good to be here.

SIEGEL: The Palestinian Popular Resistance Committee says one of its senior commanders was killed in the Israeli air strike. Does Israel hold that group specifically responsible for what happened in Eilat? And does that mean that it wasn't the work of Hamas?

OREN: Well, first, let me express my personal condolences to the families of the seven innocent Israelis killed today and the dozens wounded, wish them a speedy recovery. And, yes, we do hold Hamas responsible for everything that goes on in the Gaza Strip. Hamas is the de facto government of Gaza. It claims sovereignty over Gaza, if you will. And this particular group, the Popular Resistance Committee, is closely allied with Hamas. It's not a breakaway group. It is a group that has been involved in kidnappings. In addition to murders, it is the group that kidnapped our Sergeant Gilad Shalit.

And there is word today that among the objectives of the terrorists, just killing great numbers of Israeli civilians, was perhaps kidnapping an Israeli and holding yet another Israeli for ransom.

SIEGEL: Just to make sure I understand what's happened here. Israel, as a principal, holds Hamas responsible for any act of violence that springs from Gaza. And it holds the Popular Resistance Committee, the Palestinian Popular Resistance Committee, as a group close to Hamas. But the strike today was very, very carefully targeted on a place where you would hit the command, I gather. Also a Palestinian child was also killed according to the Palestinians. But it appears you're aiming for the commander of that group, or a commander of that group.

OREN: Well, we're going specifically for that group. That doesn't change the fact that we do hold Hamas responsible, and that this particular group is closely allied with Hamas.

SIEGEL: Israeli accounts of what happened at Eilat say that the gunmen went from Gaza through the Egyptian Sinai Peninsula, which border Israel, and then crossed into Israel. An Egyptian official today was quoted as saying that the gunmen operated from within Israel's borders, Egypt was in no way involved in the incident and that it's difficult to penetrate the Egyptian-Israeli border. First, does Israel hold Egypt in any way responsible for this attack?

OREN: No, we don't. I want to say that. But I will stand by the estimates of all our intelligence services that the terrorists did emanate from Gaza and crossed Sinai. We've been increasingly concerned, Robert, about the growing instability in Sinai. In the past, Sinai was under the control of the Egyptian army, the Egyptian police. And as you know, since the Arab Spring in January, the Egyptian police and army have been preoccupied elsewhere. And this has led to a very significant increase in smuggling, particularly of weaponry, into Gaza and the crossing out of Gaza of Hamas elements.

SIEGEL: But how would the Israeli government today appraise the state of the relationship with the Egyptian government post-Mubarak? I realize it's not as close as what was before, but is it a cooperative relationship so far?

OREN: It is a cooperative relationship. We have good communication with the transition government in Egypt. We are giving them every support we can give them as they go through this difficult transition. And we truly hope that Egypt will undergo genuine reforms and emerge as a peace-loving democracy in our region. We view Egypt as a partner in this very historic transition.

SIEGEL: Ambassador Oren, thank you very much for talking with us today.

OREN: My pleasure, Robert.

SIEGEL: That's Michael Oren, who is Israel's ambassador to the United States. He happens to be in Jerusalem today, and that's where he spoke to us from.

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