Israel's Gaza Offensive Continues in Obscurity

The war in Lebanon has largely overshadowed the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. But Israeli troops are keeping up daily attacks in Gaza, hoping to find the soldier captured by Palestinian militants last month. People in Gaza claim that Israel is using munitions that mutilate legs. Israel says it does not attack with the intention of amputating legs.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne. Good morning.

JOHN YDSTIE host:

And I'm John Ydstie, sitting in for Steve Inskeep.

Throughout the war in Lebanon, Israel has continued its military activities in Gaza. The latest involves an Incursion into central Gaza with small numbers of Israeli troops on the ground and continued use of rockets, artillery and naval bombardment. That incursion ended early this morning, but Palestinian medical sources say that in the past two days at least 20 people have been killed and 150 injured. In the Gaza operation, no Israeli soldiers have been killed.

NPR's Mike Shuster reports from Gaza.

MIKE SHUSTER reporting:

(Soundbite of aircraft engine)

The dull drone of an unmanned Israeli surveillance aircraft fills the hot afternoon air. This is known as the Magazi(ph) district in central Gaza, only a mile or so from Gaza's eastern border with Israel. A small number of Israeli troops entered the Magazi district late Tuesday night. The Israeli Army says there were rockets launched from this area and the operation was organized to counter that. There appeared to be some resistance on the part of Palestinian gunmen. But ambulance driver Mohammed Azibdah(ph), who entered the combat zone late on Thursday, says most of the casualties were civilians.

Mr. MOHAMMED AZIBDAH (Ambulance Driver, Gaza): (Speaking a foreign language)

Unidentified Man #1: What he found, it was civilians and some kids. What he found as an ambulance man when they go to rescue them, only civilians and kids.

SHUSTER: Does anybody know how many people have been killed or injured?

Mr. AZIBDAH: (Speaking a foreign language)

Unidentified Man #1: Minimum killed people 12. Injuries, more than 100.

SHUSTER: The Israeli Defense Force says it is only targeting gunmen. The Army says it has seen militants with anti-tank missiles, and it attacked them using rockets from the air. On the ground, these rockets are causing injuries that Palestinian medical personnel say they've not seen before. Ahmad Aborish(ph) is a volunteer with a local medical relief organization.

Mr. AHMAD ABORISH (Medical Volunteer): (Speaking a foreign language)

Unidentified Man #1: They are using some kind of prohibited rockets, a new kind of rockets, which cut the limbs, legs. They have more than 40 cases, (indiscernible), with cut limbs, especially legs.

SHUSTER: The Israeli Army has dropped leaflets over the area, warning civilians that if they are in neighborhoods where weapons have been stored they are in jeopardy. Indeed, many Palestinian families have left the Magazi district over the past two days to avoid the Israeli attacks. The Israeli Defense Force says it has not yet targeted some densely populated areas where it knows of weapons caches. And there are reports that Israeli troops are now gathering at another location just outside of Gaza.

The operation here is just the latest part of an offensive in Gaza that began more than a month ago when Palestinian militants seized an Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit. More than 110 Palestinians have been killed since that time, but the operation has not stopped the launching of homemade rockets into Israel. And Shalit is still being held somewhere in Gaza, it is believed.

Last week, apparently in support of the Palestinians, Hezbollah in southern Lebanon seized two more Israeli soldiers and started firing its own missiles into Israel.

Here in the Magazi district of Gaza, one doctor on the street - who would only use his first name, Ashraf(ph) - said few gunmen remained in the area by Thursday and they put up little resistance.

ASHRAF: (Speaking a foreign language)

Unidentified Man #1: When he went (indiscernible), he saw some civilians. In between them, maybe, maximum, one militant or two, maximum. And he said that most of the injured people, they were with cut limbs, cut legs, badly injured. They were hit by a rocket from the plane.

SHUSTER: At the nearby al-Aksa(ph) Hospital, Dr. Habaa Swahidi(ph), head of the surgical department, said his small emergency room was overwhelmed by the wounded.

Dr. HABAA SWAHIDI (Head of Surgical Department, al-Aksa Hospital, Gaza): We have received about 175 injured persons and we have nine murders that are lying down in the refrigerator of the hospital. You know, you see the burn. You see nails. And you see this type of rockets have been used amputating the lower limb mostly.

SHUSTER: Israel has also deployed warships off the coast. This week the ships have targeted the coastal road that runs the length of Gaza. That road is now closed after one ambulance was hit by an Israeli shell.

Mike Shuster, NPR News, Gaza.

YDSTIE: In a subsequent comment from Israeli Military spokesman Captain Ishai David, he didn't confirm or deny reports that Israel is using some new type of weapon but stated that, we do not attack with the intention of amputating legs. We attack terrorists and attempt to keep civilian casualties to a minimum.

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