3 Israeli Soldiers Killed In Gaza Offensive

Palestinians say Israeli attacks on Gaza intensified before dawn Tuesday. Israeli soldiers seized several buildings inside Gaza City. Late Monday, three Israeli soldiers were killed by what Israeli officials say was an errant tank round. An international diplomatic effort to bring about a cease-fire is making no progress.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's Morning Edition from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

ARI SHAPIRO, host:

And I'm Ari Shapiro. This week's ground fighting in Gaza has two kinds of effects. One is the effect on world opinion, especially the Arab world. And in a moment, we'll hear from refugees in Lebanon. The more direct effect is on the people in Gaza. Israel's military stepped up its attacks in that strip of land on the Mediterranean coast. Casualties are going up, and just today, Israeli tank fire killed at least 30 Palestinians at a United Nations school. The humanitarian crisis keeps getting worse. Here's NPR's Mike Shuster.

MIKE SHUSTER: Many people died in Gaza last night and into this morning. In one widely-reported incident, a pregnant mother and her four children died when a tank shell exploded in their home. In another incident, reported by medical workers, fire from Israeli naval ships offshore killed 10 Palestinians in central Gaza. Haider Eid(ph), a professor from Al-Aqsa University in Gaza, described what it was like last night through Al Jazeera's English-language satellite channel, the only international news outlet that has reporters and cameras inside Gaza.

(Soundbite from Al Jazeera's Satellite Channel)

Professor HAIDER EID (Al-Aqsa University, Gaza): I can hear shelling in the north. I can hear shelling in the south. Two kilometers from where I live is the Tefah(ph) neighborhood, and it has been exposed, actually, to intense shelling for the last, actually, two to three hours. I can hear Apache helicopters, I can hear F-16's and I can hear shooting from the gunships in the Mediterranean. It's a very, very hard night, indeed. And we don't know what the morning is bringing to us.

SHUSTER: The Israeli military reported that in the intensified fighting, it's forces killed more than 130 Hamas fighters. Three Israeli soldiers died last night as well, in an incident that is described as friendly fire. In the Sajia(ph) neighborhood of East Gaza City, considered a Hamas stronghold, a tank shell was fired at a building seized by an Israeli infantry unit. Some of the soldiers were on the roof.

In addition to the three dead, 20 other Israeli soldiers were injured, many seriously. The Israeli Defense Force initially thought Hamas gunmen used an anti-tank weapon against the Israeli soldiers. But after several hours of investigation, the IDF concluded the three Israelis died when their own tank fired on the building.

The humanitarian crisis in Gaza gets worse by the day. United Nations Aid workers say the only electricity available in the territory comes from generators, and fuel for those generators will run out in two days. Food is scarce. Flour and other staples are warehoused in distribution points, but they are not accessible because of the fighting. Running water has not been available for days, and the sewage and sanitation systems are broken down, says Maxwell Gaylard, the chief UN humanitarian coordinator.

Mr. MAXWELL GAYLARD (Chief UN Humanitarian Coordinator): Large numbers of people, including many children, are hungry, they are cold, they are without ready access to medical facilities, they're without access to electricity and running water. Above all, they are terrified. That, by any measure, is a humanitarian crisis.

SHUSTER: Diplomats from Europe and the Middle East have begun to push hard for a cease-fire. The French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, and several foreign ministers from the European Union visited Jerusalem, Cairo and the West Bank. They met here with Israel's leaders, but reported no progress. After one meeting, Israel's foreign minister, Tsipi Livni, emphasized Israel's commitment to following through with its military operations.

Foreign Minister TSIPI LIVNI (Israel): What Israel is doing is not only expressing its right to defend itself, and this the legitimate right of self-defense. What we are doing represent the battle in this region and the fight against extremism and against terror.

SHUSTER: Overall, since Israel's operation began on December 27th, nearly 600 Palestinians have died. More than 2,500 have been injured. At least five Israeli soldiers have died in the fighting, and another four Israelis were killed by Palestinian rockets falling inside Israel. The fighting has not stopped the Palestinian rocket attacks. Mike Shuster, NPR News, Jerusalem.

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