Death Toll Climbs In Israel-Gaza Conflict Amid Attempts At Cease-Fire

Israel widened its operation into Gaza Sunday and each side had the highest death toll of this two-week-old conflict. NPR's Kelly McEvers talks to Daniel Estrin in Jerusalem about this deadly day.

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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

It's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR West. I'm Kelly McEvers in for Arun Rath. Today was the deadliest day in the two weeks of fighting between Israel and the militant group Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip. Israel stepped up its ground offensive today in a crowded neighborhood of Gaza city. Palestinian health officials said at least 80 Palestinians were killed and Israel said 13 of its soldiers were killed. For the latest we're joined by Daniel Estrin in Jerusalem. And Daniel How did all this start today?

DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: Well, it all began a little after midnight in the neighborhood of Shijaiyah, which is just East of the center of Gaza City. Israel had been warning residents of the neighborhood for days to leave and Israel said rockets were being launched from that area and that Israel was planning to attack and today Israel attacked. Not all of the neighborhood's residents left. And eventually the Red Cross asked for a cease-fire, a temporary humanitarian cease-fire, just to get out the dead and the wounded. And as soon as that happened ambulances rushed into the neighborhood and the morgue was reportedly a mob scene with people bringing in body bags and families looking for bodies. And the Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas called it an Israeli massacre and called for three days of national mourning.

MCEVERS: There were also losses on the Israeli side today. I mean, more than we've ever seen in recent conflicts in Gaza. What happened?

ESTRIN: Well, Israel said at least 13 Israeli soldiers were killed today in Gaza. It is the single highest Israeli death toll throughout this fighting. And 18 soldiers so far have died. We don't know any of the details really about how the soldiers today died. Other soldiers who have died in the three day ground offensive, some of them were killed when militants popped their heads out of a tunnel on the Israeli side and attacked soldiers.

MCEVERS: President Obama spoke today with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. What did he say and where does the U.S. stand now following this intense day of fighting?

ESTRIN: Well, the White House said it was Obama's second telephone call with Netanyahu in three days to discuss what's going on in Gaza. The White House said Obama voiced the United States support for Israel's right to defend itself. He also raised serious concern, the White House said, about the growing number of casualties. And he said the Secretary of State, John Kerry, will soon travel to Cairo to help with efforts to reach a cease-fire. Soon, we don't know when.

MCEVERS: The death toll keeps on climbing meanwhile. I mean, are there any indications that this soon will be very soon?

ESTRIN: Well, the Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, who spoke today in a live TV press conference. He said Israel's goal of striking hard, of crushing Hamas would be achieved either through military means or through diplomacy. And the defense minister did give a small hint of a timetable here. He said, it would take two or three more days for Israel to destroy most of the tunnels that Israel says Hamas has built to enter Israel and carry out attacks. Whether that's all that's left in this fighting we just don't know.

MCEVERS: That's reporter Daniel Estrin speaking to us from Jerusalem. Thanks so much Daniel.

ESTRIN: Thanks Kelly.

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