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In Gaza, Israeli Army Steps Up Attacks

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In Gaza, Israeli Army Steps Up Attacks

Middle East

In Gaza, Israeli Army Steps Up Attacks

In Gaza, Israeli Army Steps Up Attacks

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Over the past month, fighting between Hezbollah and Israel has stolen the headlines from the conflict in the Gaza Strip. But the conflict there is far from over. Even while battling Hezbollah, Israeli forces have intensified military operations in Gaza over the past several days. The conflict with Gaza started when Palestinian militants kidnapped an Israeli soldier. NPR's Anne Garrels reports.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

The bombing and the fighting continued today in the Middle East. Israeli warplanes hit targets across Lebanon, including north of Beirut, where much of the country's Christian population lives. Israel bombed the main road to Syria. It was the last land route for humanitarian supplies. Israel says it was also a route for weapons. And Lebanese officials say 27 farm workers died when a bomb hit a fruit farm near the Syrian border.

BLOCK: On the other side of the conflict, Hezbollah fired more rockets into Israel today, killing at least 3 civilians and wounding dozens. Rockets reached the city of Hadera, about 50 miles from the Lebanese border. Three Israeli soldiers were reportedly killed in ground fighting with Hezbollah guerillas.

NORRIS: The fighting between Israel and Hezbollah has dominated the news for weeks. But while it's been going on, Israel forces have also intensified their operations in Gaza. The wave of violence began in late June, when Palestinian militants kidnapped an Israeli soldier. In addition to nightly airstrikes, dozens of tanks and other armored vehicles have moved to the outskirts of Rafah, a town that straddles Gaza's border with Egypt.

NPR's Anne Garrels reports.

ANNE GARRELS reporting:

(Soundbite of crying)

GARRELS: Three Palestinians were killed overnight outside Rafah. The funeral processions for two militants and a three-week-old baby drew crowds of keening women and angry young men with automatic weapons. In the past month, Israeli forces have killed over 170 and wounded hundreds more, many of them civilians, according to both Palestinian and U.N. officials.

Before attacking the homes of suspected militants, Israeli officials sometimes give a warning. For Omar al-Hateb(ph), a self-confessed resistance fighter with Islamic Jihad, the call came just before midnight.

Mr. OMAR AL-HATEB (Islamic Jihad): (Through translator) They called me on my mobile the moment I left my house and he said, this is Captain Ame(ph) from the Israeli Intelligence. Even when he called me, he called me by my nickname. Go back to your house. Evacuate the house. We will bombard it.

GARRELS: The house was destroyed ten minutes later. As his family sifts through the rubble, 32-year-old Omar says he will not give in to Israeli pressure and will never accept an Israeli state. While not surprised he was targeted, others, like Omar al-Mamuk(ph), say they have nothing to do with militants.

Mr. OMAR AL-MAMUK (Resident, Lebanon): (Speaking foreign language)

GARRELS: As he surveys the pile of cement that, until last week, was his family home, Omar laughs bitterly. Caught, he says, between the Israelis and the religious fanatics he also hates.

Some who receive phone calls warning them to abandon them homes have yet to be bombed. They call it a cruel mind game. Well over 1,000 have fled their homes.

(Soundbite of animals)

Along with their camels and goats, 60 poor farming families camp out under the blazing sun with no ready access to water or sanitation.

Mr. NASSAR AL-KASHAD(ph) (Resident, Palestine): (Speaking foreign language)

GARRELS: As 45-year-old Nassar al-Kashad displays shards of shrapnel from the shell which destroyed his house, he calls the Israeli military incursion revenge, stupid revenge which will backfire.

Many are still stuck in their houses, under fire.

Unidentified Woman (Resident, Palestine): (Speaking foreign language)

GARRELS: This woman called into a radio station begging for water and medicine.

For John Geng, director of operations for the U.N. Relief and Works Agency, the Israeli incursion is the latest strain on a population already suffering from an international economic boycott of the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority.

Mr. JOHN GENG (U.N. Relief and Works Agency): The public sector was actually collapsing and then we move onto this military operation. And this military operation, of course, has killed a lot of people. It's resulted in a lot of death and injury. And it has also resulted in destruction of the infrastructure, most notably the power plant which was providing 43 percent of the electricity to the Gaza Strip.

GARRELS: While Geng acknowledges Israeli citizens under Palestinian rocket fire are also living in fear, he asks how destroying an electricity plant is related to security. The head of Israel's Gaza Liaison Administration has said the situation in Gaza is not even close to developing into a humanitarian crisis, a statement Geng disputes.

Mr. GENG: It's a crisis for you because it's very dangerous, you have no salary, you have no prospect of having a salary. You're depending on handouts. We at UNRWA feed 820,000 people. So 820,000 people depend on our food assistance to survive.

GARRELS: That's 200,000 more than just a month ago, and Geng says there's no way out.

Mr. GENG: The only border that Palestinians can cross through at Rafah has been closed since the 28th of June. They're trapped.

(Soundbite of water)

GARRELS: Fishermen, forced to stay close to shore by the Israelis, have watched their catch and their income plummet.

Mr. RYAD AL-SHARAFI(ph) (Resident, Palestine): (Speaking foreign language)

GARRELS: Ryad al-Sharafi has run out of credit to buy food for his family, but he says the militants were right in taking the Israeli soldier in order to gain the release of thousands of Palestinians held in Israeli jails.

John Geng from the U.N. says the mood of Palestinians in Gaza has hardened dramatically.

Mr. GENG: The mindset here is now very much going in the wrong direction, away from the political path to peace. The political path to peace requires an outlook of compromise, of understanding, of tolerance and so on and so forth. People who feel a sense of siege, imprisonment, persecution, punishment, they do not have that outlook.

Anne Garrels, NRP News, Gaza.

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