News Producer Describes Situation Inside Gaza

Ahmed Abu Hamda, a news producer for foreign news organizations, including NPR, says Gaza City is a ghost city with very few people outside. Most have already stocked up on supplies for fear the Israeli attacks will get worse.

"People are panicking over here," Hamda tells NPR's Melissa Block. "They are afraid from the news talking about invasion. And, also, they are afraid to go down later on. So they prepare to buy everything at once."

Hamda says that on Monday Israeli airstrikes began shortly after midnight and continued almost constantly until between 6:30 a.m. and 7 a.m.

"After that it was somehow a little bit calm," he says.

Hamda says, however, that to the north and south of the Gaza Strip, Israel attacked houses belonging to members of Al-Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of the Islamist group Hamas, which controls Gaza.

He says that to stay safe, people are staying home and choosing parts of the house away from potential Israeli targets. It's a tip he and his wife follow.

"Usually, I sleep with my wife to the room in the corner, far away to the east of my flat, far away from the windows," Hamda says. "She's even pregnant. I cannot even protect my wife.

"It's really horrible and so confusing for everyone here in Gaza."

He says many people are now discussing a possible ground invasion of Gaza and have mixed feelings about such a move. Some are afraid of a possible land invasion while others are hoping for one, he says.

"They hope that the militants and the resistance here in Gaza will take the revenge from the Israeli army when they are on the ground," Hamda says.

Hamda adds that there is some criticism of Hamas, but overwhelmingly people have united against Israel's actions. He says that they tell him, "Now is not the time to discuss who is to blame — whether Hamas or Fatah or Israel — Israel is our enemy and we have to stand against them."

Israeli Planes Pound Gaza Targets

Map of the region
Alyson Hurt/NPR

Israeli warplanes pounded Hamas targets in Gaza for a third day Monday, hitting buildings and key installations linked to the Islamic group as Israel continued a major offensive that has killed more than 300 Palestinians.

Israel launched its deadliest attack on Gaza in decades Saturday in hopes of striking a knockout blow against Hamas, which controls the region. The offensive came in retaliation for rocket fire aimed at civilians in southern Israeli towns after Hamas ended a six-month unilateral cease-fire.

The three-day death toll included seven children younger than 15 who were killed in two separate strikes late Sunday and Monday, medics said. Hospitals report that they are having difficulty coping with casualties.

Most of those killed since Saturday are thought to have been members of Hamas security forces. The United Nations agency in charge of Palestinian refugees said at least 51 of the dead were civilians.

The strikes appear to have hampered Hamas' rocket-launching capability, but a rocket fired at the Israeli city of Ashkelon killed a man there Monday and wounded several others. On Sunday, Hamas missiles struck near the city of Ashdod, twice as far from Gaza as Ashkelon and only 25 miles from Tel Aviv.

Israel has declared the area around Gaza a closed military zone. In Jerusalem, Israel's Cabinet approved a call-up of 6,500 reserve soldiers Sunday in possible preparation for a ground offensive, an option that Israeli military leaders would not rule out.

Meanwhile, thousands of people throughout the Middle East have taken to the streets carrying images of the death and destruction in Gaza to denounce Israel's assault.

The Bush administration has blamed the renewed violence on the militant Hamas.

"In order for the violence to stop, Hamas must stop firing rockets into Israel and agree to respect a sustainable and durable ceasefire," White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said.

Hamas has "shown its true colors as a terrorist organization," he said.

President-elect Barack Obama's senior adviser, David Axelrod, said the incoming administration "wants to be a constructive force in helping to bring about the peace and security that both the Israelis and the Palestinians want and deserve."

Alexrod, speaking on CBS' Face the Nation on Sunday, said Obama would "work closely with the Israelis. ... But he will do so in a way that will promote the cause of peace, and work closely with the Israelis and the Palestinians on that — toward that objective."

The European Union has called for a halt in the fighting but U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Monday admonished world leaders for not doing enough.

"I think regional and international partners have not done enough. They should do more," Ban said in a statement, his third in as many days on the subject of Gaza.

"They should use all possible means to end the violence and encourage political dialogue, emphasizing peaceful ways of resolving differences," he said.

Hundreds of demonstrators convened Sunday outside the Israeli embassy in London and in a predominantly Arab neighborhood in Paris to protest Israeli actions.

Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005 after a 38-year military occupation, but Israeli forces have repeatedly crossed into the territory to hunt militants firing rockets at Israeli towns.

From NPR and wire reports

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