Israel Begins Ground Offensive In Gaza

Israel's chief military spokesman says they're going after tunnels, terror activists and infrastructure. Thousands of Israel soldiers have moved into the territory backed by tanks.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And let's turn now to the other huge news story. Israel launched a ground invasion overnight in Gaza. Israeli troops are targeting the militant group Hamas, and so what started as an aerial assault on Gaza is not a ground war. NPR's Emily Harris is in Gaza City. Emily, what have you been seeing today?

EMILY HARRIS, BYLINE: Well, today, Steve, people are moving around some in Gaza City. It's really pretty quiet out there, but especially around midday when it was time for Friday prayers, mosques were open, and some people were going. There's a falafel stand I saw open - a money changer open. There has been less - less bombing heard today so far, certainly compared to last night when the Israeli military launched a full-fledged assault on the northern and eastern edges of Gaza and also used artillery from ships on the Mediterranean - big explosions - fiery explosions lighting up the sky. But today in Gaza City, people are assessing the damage. There were some attacks in Gaza City on buildings here. In the north, we're hearing reports of chaos and fear, also, in the eastern parts where people evacuated last night during some of the most intense fire. I spoke with a U.N. staffer on the ground here in Gaza, saying that - he said that all the schools and clinics in Gaza are available as safe havens - temporary havens. And in the north, they actually had to close one shelter, a school where people were staying, and move them to a safer location.

INSKEEP: Emily, I'm trying to sort out from what you're saying what we can figure about what Israel is doing here. Israel has said they're going after tunnels along the border, and that seems consistent with what you're saying. You're saying that there have been ground operations right along the border between Gaza and Israel, but the bulk of Gaza City, where you are - life is going on, more or less, as normal. Is that right?

HARRIS: Well I would not say, more or less, as normal - maybe, more or less as normal the day after a ground invasion starts.

INSKEEP: Yeah.

HARRIS: People looking around seeing what's going on - checking in. The Israeli military has said that their operations are concentrating on destroying infrastructure that militants here in Gaza use, including a special focus on tunnels, reinforced concrete tunnels that can be dug into Israel, that would pose a threat to the Israeli population that could be used to hide weapons or move weapons. But most of these would be in the border areas. And in fact, when I spoke with a Hamas spokesperson today, he raised the question of - he raised the question of whether Israel is actually - has actually made it very far into the Gaza Strip. I think a lot of people here are really - that's on their mind because the last time there was a ground invasion in 2009, Israel really came deep into the strip and affected daily life in a very severe way. So people are watching to see how this is going to develop on the ground.

INSKEEP: Of course, as we've heard from our colleague Ari Shapiro in Jerusalem, Israel is saying that there are, at least, preparations for a more sustained ground assault. Are people fearing that where you are?

HARRIS: Yeah, Netanyahu prime minister - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did give a statement before a cabinet meeting today, saying that he has ordered the army to prepare for the possibility of significantly expanding ground operations. I mean, Israel's not ruling anything out at the moment. But if their focus is on infrastructure, they may stay in these edge regions, and that is what people are wondering. How bad is this going to get for their daily lives. People were instructed by the Israeli military yesterday to move toward the city centers. However, given Netanyahu's statement today, Israel hasn't ruled out anything in what this ground invasion will look like.

INSKEEP: We've just got a few seconds left, Emily Harris. Is it your sense, though, from the people you've been talking to that the civilian populace in Gaza is still supporting Hamas?

HARRIS: Well, a lot of people I've spoken to over this week, even if they don't like Hamas, they really don't like the conditions that they're living under. And if Hamas's fight against Israel can do anything to change those - freedom of travel, more goods in here - normal life, as they say, they support that.

INSKEEP: Emily, thanks very much, as always.

HARRIS: Thanks Steve.

INSKEEP: And be safe. That's NPR's Emily Harris. She is in Gaza City. Israel says it has launched a ground operation in Gaza overnight. We'll bring you more as we learn it.

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