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Israel Bombards Gaza, At Least 140 Dead
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Israel Bombards Gaza, At Least 140 Dead

Middle East

Israel Bombards Gaza, At Least 140 Dead

Israel Bombards Gaza, At Least 140 Dead
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Israeli fighter jets pounded most every major Hamas security compound across Gaza on Saturday, in reprisal for rocket attacks on southern Israel. Hamas and Gaza medical officials say at least 140 people have been killed and more than 200 wounded. Rockets have been fired on southern Israel, where medical officials say one person was killed.

SCOTT SIMON, host:

This is Weekend Edition from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. There's fighting in the Gaza Strip today. Israeli fighter jets pounded almost every major security compound across Gaza in reprisal for rocket attacks on southern Israel. A Gaza medical official says at least 160 have been killed. That number is expected to rise. Rockets have been fired on southern Israel. Hamas took control of Gaza in 2007, and Israel accuses them of doing nothing to halt the rocket assaults. The U.N. is calling for an immediate halt to the violence. Groups in Gaza are vowing revenge. NPR's Eric Westervelt joins us now from Jerusalem. Eric, thanks for being with us.

ERIC WESTERVELT: Good morning, Scott.

SIMON: And what do you know about what happened?

WESTERVELT: Well, witnesses say around noon, local time, a series of massive air strikes shook all of Gaza City, and what followed were scenes of desperation and chaos. Video from the scene, Scott, showed Hamas policemen and frantic Gaza medical workers trying to rescue the wounded and retrieve the dead and the dying. Amid plumes of smoke and rubble and real fear of additional air strikes, because some strikes are continuing as we speak in Gaza City. There weren't enough ambulances, Scott, so people are piling bodies into taxis and pickup trucks.

A Gaza official told me every major police compound in Gaza City and several others across the territory were attacked. Among the dead is the police chief for all of Gaza. His name is Major General Tawfiq Jabber.

SIMON: Help us understand the geography where this is going on, Eric, because Israel talks about directing their attacks just on the police and security compounds. Where are these places located?

WESTERVELT: Well, it does appear the direct hits were all on Hamas police and security compound, that's true. But Gaza City, one has to understand, is one of the most densely populated places in the Middle East, building upon building. In some buildings, you'll have dozens of families with huge numbers of people. You know, so, these compounds are also near civilian areas, including outdoor and indoor shopping areas, residential buildings, and schools. The first air strikes hit when children were still in school for the day.

It's not clear how many civilians are among the dead, but Dr. Mowayea Hasaneen, the head of Gaza's - Gaza medical director, says there are many civilians, including several children.

SIMON: Israel, of course, maintains that rocket attacks were being launched from Gaza on southern Israel and that they had warned the leadership of Hamas these attacks have to be stopped. And now, an Israeli military spokesman indicates the leadership of Hamas may be targets. What effect would that have?

WESTERVELT: Already, we're hearing vows from Islamic Jihad and Hamas to avenge this attack. There's already been some rocket fire today. It's killed one Israeli and wounded several others in the Negev border town of Netivot. The Israeli government has warned residents living throughout southern Israel in rocket range of Gaza to remain indoors and in protected areas. And Hamas and Islamic Jihad also vowed to respond with, quote, "all possible means," which is a very thinly veiled threat to unleash suicide attacks.

SIMON: NPR's Eric Westervelt in Jerusalem. Thanks very much.

WESTERVELT: You're welcome.

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World Leaders Call For Cease-Fire In Gaza

A Palestinian boy stands in front of a destroyed building. i

A Palestinian boy stands in front of a destroyed building as smoke rises from the ruin. Mahmud Hams/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Mahmud Hams/AFP/Getty Images
A Palestinian boy stands in front of a destroyed building.

A Palestinian boy stands in front of a destroyed building as smoke rises from the ruin.

Mahmud Hams/AFP/Getty Images
An Israeli policeman looks through a hole in the side of a building after a rocket attack. i

An Israeli policeman looks through a hole in the side of an apartment building after a Palestinian rocket attack in Netivot, southern Israel, on Saturday. One Israeli was killed and several others were wounded. Alon Tuval/ATP Media hide caption

toggle caption Alon Tuval/ATP Media
An Israeli policeman looks through a hole in the side of a building after a rocket attack.

An Israeli policeman looks through a hole in the side of an apartment building after a Palestinian rocket attack in Netivot, southern Israel, on Saturday. One Israeli was killed and several others were wounded.

Alon Tuval/ATP Media

Leaders in Washington and capitals across the globe called for a cease-fire Saturday in response to escalating violence in the Gaza Strip. Officials there say more than 200 people have been killed as Israeli fighter jets bombed Hamas-controlled police and security compounds. Hundreds more were wounded.

It's the single deadliest day in Gaza fighting in years.

Israel said the attacks were aimed at halting rocket attacks from Gaza that have continued after last week's six-month-old cease-fire expired. Since then, Hamas and other factions have launched nearly 200 rockets and mortar rounds at Israel. Both sides blame the other for the cease-fire's collapse.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice issued a statement Saturday condemning Hamas attacks on Israel, but she also called for a restoration of the cease-fire and for recognition of what she called "the urgent humanitarian needs of the innocent people of Gaza."

The statement represented a shift by the administration. Earlier Saturday, White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe urged Israel to "avoid civilian casualties as it targets Hamas in Gaza."

With Rice's remarks, the U.S. added its voice to leaders of the European Union and Russia in calling for a cease-fire.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, the Vatican, the U.N. secretary-general and special Mideast envoy Tony Blair all called for an immediate restoration of calm.

Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told reporters the army was prepared for a wider attack. It's not clear, however, whether Israel is ready to use ground troops in what would likely be a bloody and hard fight in densely populated Gaza.

Captain Elie Isaacson with the Israel Defense Forces said the operation is aimed at reducing Hamas' ability to fire rockets at Israel.

Asked whether Hamas political leaders might be targeted, Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni declared at a news conference: "Hamas is a terrorist organization and nobody is immune."

The Arab League has delayed until Wednesday a meeting of Arab foreign ministers called to take a common position on the raids. Earlier on Saturday Arab League officials said the ministerial meeting would take place on Sunday evening.

Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa told reporters the meeting was postponed because many ministers were busy in separate meetings of two Arab regional groups — the Gulf Cooperation Council and the Maghreb Union.

Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other militant factions in Gaza vowed a strong response to the air strikes, including suicide bombings.

The strikes prompted angry demonstrations around the Arab world, with protests occurring in Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and elsewhere.

The most violent West Bank response came in the city of Hebron, where dozens of youths, many of them masked, hurled rocks for hours at Israeli forces, who lobbed tear gas and stun grenades in response. Officials in Bethlehem, Jesus' traditional birthplace, turned off Christmas lights and traders shuttered shops to protest the Israeli attack.

Israel left Gaza in 2005 after a 38-year occupation, but the withdrawal did not lead to better relations with Palestinians in the territory as Israeli officials had hoped.

Instead, the evacuation was followed by a sharp rise in militant attacks on Israeli border communities that on several occasions provoked harsh Israeli military reprisals.

With reporting from NPR's Peter Kenyon and David Folkenflik. Wire reports also contributed to this story.

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