Fighting Between Israel And Gaza Spans 1 Week

Thousands of Palestinian residents are taking shelter. The fighting shows no signs of slowing, despite international calls for a ceasefire and growing concerns about the mounting civilian death toll.

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It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And I'm Renee Montagne. The intense fighting between Israel and Hamas-controlled Gaza has now been going on for a week, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says it may last for a long time to come. The international community is trying to broker a cease-fire, so far without success. NPR's Ari Shapiro joins us on the line from Jerusalem now. Good morning.

ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: What is the state of the conflict there on this Monday?

SHAPIRO: Pretty much what it has been for the last week. This is still mostly an air war, where Israel keeps hitting Gaza with airstrikes, and Hamas keeps sending rockets into Israel. Those airstrikes from Israel to Gaza have caused widespread damage and death. The number of Palestinian dead is creeping close to 200, many of them civilians. And while the rockets from Gaza into Israel have caused some damage and serious injuries, there are still no Israelis known to have been killed from those attacks.

MONTAGNE: And yesterday, Ari, Israel warned that it was planning to stage a major offensive. What happened with that?

SHAPIRO: Well, really not much. Israel dropped leaflets over some Gaza neighborhoods telling people to clear out, and thousands of people fled their homes to the south of Gaza which seems to be safer. Many hundreds of people in Gaza who hold foreign passports were evacuated. Israel said the onslaught was going to take place sometime after 12 noon on Sunday and then nothing. There was one small ground incursion from the sea yesterday morning. It was the first time that Israel's military landed in Gaza. But it did not last long, and it was not followed by an all-out ground assault.

MONTAGNE: Still, this is pretty intense fighting. How much longer can it go on?

SHAPIRO: Analysts say something has to change within the next few days. Tens of thousands of Israeli troops are lined up along the border with Gaza. Tanks are ready to deploy, and it is very difficult to keep a force that large on high alert for day after day after day. If the tanks stay there for a long time without doing anything, then Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu risks looking like this mobilization was really a bluff. Netanyahu is viewed as a hawk and a hardliner, but he's always been cautious about committing troops to ground combat. So military experts say the prime minister needs to make a decision soon whether to launch the kind of massive ground invasion that he has resisted until now or agree to a cease-fire.

MONTAGNE: Well, let's talk about effort to broker a cease-fire. What exactly is going on?

SHAPIRO: International pressure is growing by the day. We've seen a lot of buzz in the last 48 hours. In Vienna yesterday on the sidelines of nuclear talks with Iran, there was a lot of discussion about this conflict. Secretary of State John Kerry was there. He met with foreign ministers from Germany, France and the U.K. The German foreign minister is on his way to Israel to talk about this. Kerry called Netanyahu on Sunday, and remember Kerry was the key negotiator in the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks that collapsed a few months ago. Yesterday Netanyahu also spoke to his cabinet where he said this conflict might go on for a very long time. So despite international pressure, neither Israel nor Hamas looks ready to wrap this up right away.

MONTAGNE: So is there any sense of what it would take for each side or both sides to agree to a cease-fire?

SHAPIRO: Both sides are saying they will not agree to a simple calm-for-calm, quiet-for-quiet deal. That is, it's not enough to say, put down your weapons and call this done. Each side has long-term demands. Israel wants to know that this cease-fire will last longer than the two years that went by since the last conflict in 2012. They would like to see Hamas and other militant groups in the Gaza Strip stripped of their weapons, and Netanyahu has said very clearly that Hamas must not gain anything from this cease-fire. As he sees it, the militant group should not be rewarded for inundating Israel with rocket fire. And Hamas has a range of demands. They want prisoners to be released, and they would like to see the border crossing with Egypt reopened in order to allow more commerce and trade, even for construction materials to come into Gaza.

MONTAGNE: Well, we'll be talking more about this as the days go on. Thank you very much, Ari.

SHAPIRO: You're welcome, Renee.

MONTAGNE: That's NPR's Ari Shapiro on the line with us from Jerusalem.

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