Israel Launches A Ground Campaign Against Hamas In Gaza

According to a statement from the office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli Defense Force has been instructed to begin a ground offensive into the Gaza Strip. The move comes 10 days after violence renewed between Hamas and Israel.

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

And I'm Robert Siegel. The air conflict between Israel and Hamas - rocket fire and missile attacks - is now becoming a ground conflict. Israel is sending troops into the Gaza Strip. Israeli military spokesman, Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, described the move to the BBC.

PETE LERNER: We've appealed to Hamas. Please, let's deescalate the situation and not take this path of violence. But instead, they've chosen this path and left us basically with no real alternative.

SIEGEL: Witnesses along the border report heavy shelling. Israel's introduction of ground forces comes days into the latest - 10 days into the latest fighting. It also follows a brief cease-fire earlier today that came at the request of the United Nations. We're going to hear two accounts from Gaza city, starting with NPR's Emily Harris who joins us now. And Emily, what's going on in Gaza now?

EMILY HARRIS, BYLINE: Well, Robert, like you said, a couple of hours ago, a ground invasion started. The IDF - the Israeli military says that it has sent troops over all of Gaza's borders, but we are hearing reports from people that so far the efforts of the operation have been concentrated in the north. We spoke to people up in the northern areas - one right on the agricultural edge - the end of the - the place where people live and it turns into agricultural fields a couple kilometers back from the border. And they told us that there's lots and lots of shelling going on there. They have been trying to keep in contact with friends there to see if they - to see if anyone has seen a tank. And we haven't seen any reports from that one source of tanks yet. Even a little further south, people are telling us they've moved in to the central rooms of their house. From the tall towers of Gaza City - I am not in one of those tall towers so I haven't seen this personally, but people are reporting explosions - bright explosions, very high, also concentrated in the north. It's not clear what troops are where exactly at the moment, but the Israeli military said that they've sent in infantry, armored vehicles and engineering units so far in this ground operation.

SIEGEL: There was a statement from Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu's which talked about one objective here which has to do with tunnels. What's that about?

HARRIS: Well, there's a long history - frankly, it actually dates back a couple thousand years - of digging tunnels under Gaza in this part of the world. More recently in the conflict with Israel, militants here have used tunnels to do a number of things when they dig a tunnel from Gaza into Israel. The most well-known event might have been the capturing of an Israeli soldier back in 2005 now, and that soldier was held for five years and eventually released in a big prisoner exchange - Gilad Shalit. Hamas operatives, according to the Israeli military, even today, were caught near a tunnel in the southern part of the Gaza Strip. The tunnel went into Israel. The Israeli military says that they found weapons in the tunnel, and they say they bombed the tunnel site from the air. Hamas claims that all the people that were working in the tunnel - all of its militants returned to Gaza safely. But the tunnels are basically a very both real and symbolic problem for Israel. It's some - it's the militants' way into Israel, and that is something that Israel's military is going to try to focus on, apparently, in this ground invasion - to try to destroy those tunnels - smash them in.

SIEGEL: What has Hamas said about this ground invasion?

HARRIS: Local television is reporting that Hamas is saying right now that this was a big mistake - that Israel is going to regret this. Their goals that they've stated in their attempts to negotiate a cease-fire in the past couple of days have been to try to open Gaza up to the outside world. There's two exits - one to Egypt, one to Israel, and both of them are controlled or closed in recent months. They also want to get Palestinian prisoners released, particularly prisoners who were arrested recently in the West Bank after the three Israeli teenagers...

SIEGEL: Right.

HARRIS: ...Were kidnapped there and killed. And they want to allow elections. They want Israel to allow elections in the Palestinian territories, and the government that was agreed upon between Fatah, the ruling Palestinian party in the West Bank, and Hamas to continue.

SIEGEL: Emily, thanks for reporting. Take care.

HARRIS: Thanks, Robert.

SIEGEL: That's NPR's Emily Harris in Gaza.

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