Hamas Remains Defiant As Fighting Escalates

Overnight, Israel stepped up its air assault against rocket launches from Gaza. Friday, Palestinians showed for the first time they could send a weapon into Jerusalem, and Israel is threatening a ground invasion. Host Scott Simon talks with NPR's Anthony Kuhn about the continuing airstrikes in Gaza.


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. The fighting between Israel and Hamas is intensifying. Early today, Israel hit the Gaza Strip with nearly 200 airstrikes, widening a range of military targets to include the prime minister's office and other government buildings. That aerial bombardment followed persistent Palestinian rocket attacks into southern Israel. Taken together, the new attacks on both sides represent a significant escalation of hostilities. NPR's Anthony Kuhn is in Gaza City and joins us. Thanks very much for being with us, Anthony.

ANTHONY KUHN, BYLINE: My pleasure, Scott.

SIMON: And what seems to be the latest there?

KUHN: Well, we had a night of very heavy air raids last night and it pushed the death toll from the low 20s up to around 40 - essentially doubling it in one night. We're now in the fourth day of what the Israelis have dubbed Operation Cloud Pillar. Last night, the air raids hit the headquarters of Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh. Some other official houses were targeted. They also hit tunnels running under the border with Egypt, which are used to smuggle in weapons and fuel. Also, some electric power plants were hit, plunging some of southern Gaza into darkness.

SIMON: And how are Hamas leaders responding?

KUHN: The leaders of Hamas right now are still very defiant. They've had chances to try and work for a truce or a cease-fire but they are not ready to stop yet. They are, of course, jubilant that their missiles have hit deep into the Israeli heartland, and they're also very encouraged on the diplomatic front by the visits of several Arab countries, recently including Qatar. Yesterday, was Egypt. Today, the Tunisian foreign minister was in town, all of them expressing solidarity with the Palestinians. However, there are Gazans who feel that if Hamas is betting on these countries supporting them militarily then they're making a miscalculation.

SIMON: You were, I gather, out earlier today. What did you see? What could you learn from speaking with people?

KUHN: Well, I went out to look at the neighborhood and house where a local Hamas official was living. And his house was flattened to rubble. The facade of his neighbor's house was blown out. More than 30 people were injured there, I was told, but nobody was killed, miraculously. The streets here are still very much empty. I was told by students that schools have been suspended since the attacks began. It's very hard to find stores that are open. People are hunkering down pretty much, and they're aware that Israel is poised to invade Gaza.

SIMON: Anthony, Israel, of course, has called up thousands of reservists and troops and tanks are massed along the border. What are the expectations in Gaza?

KUHN: Well, first of all, I think people are really almost resigned to the fact that this is going to happen, especially in light of the fact that Hamas and the other militant groups have now been able to hit the outskirts of both Jerusalem and Tel Aviv with rockets, which they were not able to do before. The question is how costly could such an incursion be in terms of human life, and also how hard will they hit Hamas? If they really demolish it, that could leave a very dangerous political vacuum here which could be filled by even more militant groups.

SIMON: NPR's Anthony Kuhn in Gaza City. Thanks so much for being with us.

KUHN: Thank you, Scott.

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