Israel Approves Ground Troops for Gaza

Israel authorizes ground forces to move into neighborhoods on the Gaza Strip, after a rocket fired by Hamas militants hit an Israeli town Tuesday. Israel continues to press Palestinian officials to ensure the release of a captured Israeli soldier.

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

In the Mideast, Israeli ground troops have gone into Gaza. Tanks are now in the northern Gaza town of Beit Hanoun, as well as on the Palestinian side of the Erez Crossing.

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

Overnight, Israeli missiles hit the Palestinian Interior Ministry in Gaza City and caused heavy damage to the building. NPR's Linda Gradstein visited Beit Hanoun and filed this report.

LINDA GRADSTEIN reporting:

Palestinians in Beit Hanoun said several Israeli tanks moved into the outskirts of the town, and troops took over at least one house. Twenty-one-year-old Tarek el-Masri(ph) says the situation in this northern Gaza town is tense.

Mr. TAREK EL-MASRI (Gaza resident): You see the helicopters are in the air, and tanks is in our land. And, you know, the situation is really so bad. And we are so scared because we don't know what the Israel occupation will do after that.

GRADSTEIN: Israeli officials say their operation is meant to try to free captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who has been held by Palestinian militants since last week, and to stop Qassam rocket fire from Beit Hanoun and other areas in northern Gaza on southern Israel.

Yesterday, a Qassam rocket from Gaza landed in an empty school in the Israel town of Ashkelon, about eight miles north of Gaza. It's the deepest a Qassam has penetrated into Israel, and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert called it an escalation of the conflict.

The Israeli Security Cabinet approved an expansion of the military operation in northern Gaza. Israel has been poised for a large-scale ground invasion into Gaza, but has held off while diplomatic efforts to free the soldier continued. A week ago, Israel hit Gaza's main power plant. Since then, some power has been restored, but most homes get electricity only a few hours a day.

In Beit Hanoun, Manual Omusry(ph), a mother of nine, says the shooting from the tanks, the sonic booms from Israeli airplanes, and the tension keep her children awake much of the night.

Ms. MANUAL OMUSRY (Resident, Beit Hanoun): (Through translator) In fact, we cannot sleep at night, because we are so worried, afraid there will be an invasion. So we are just awake waiting for something to happen that we would be able to run away.

We're really - almost our life is frozen. We cannot go out. We cannot cook. But we are just eating from what is available at home.

GRADSTEIN: Israel has completely sealed off the Gaza Strip since yesterday. United Nations officials say there is currently a three-day supply of fuel in Gaza, fuel that is needed to power the generators for hospitals and other vital services. They say if more fuel is not allowed in, there could be a humanitarian crisis. Linda Gradstein, NPR News, Gaza City.

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