Israel Warns Of Escalation In Gaza Fighting

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Munitions fired by Israeli forces explode Saturday over the northern Gaza Strip. i

Munitions fired by Israeli forces explode Saturday over the northern Gaza Strip. David Gilkey/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption David Gilkey/NPR
Munitions fired by Israeli forces explode Saturday over the northern Gaza Strip.

Munitions fired by Israeli forces explode Saturday over the northern Gaza Strip.

David Gilkey/NPR

The Israeli air force on Saturday dropped thousands of leaflets on the Gaza Strip warning of an escalation in fighting as efforts to mediate a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas seemed to go nowhere.

More than 800 Palestinians have died since the war began more than two weeks ago — according to medical authorities in Gaza. At least 13 Israelis have been killed, most of them soldiers.

The leaflets dropped over Gaza say the Israeli Defense Forces will escalate the military operation in the Gaza Strip. "They say the IDF is not working against the people of Gaza but against Hamas and the terrorists. And they warn in people in Gaza, 'Stay safe by following our orders,' " NPR's Mike Shuster tells host Rebecca Roberts

An escalation could mean that Israel is entering a third phase in Gaza — following an air campaign and the week-old ground invasion.

"Israel's political and military leaders have been talking about a Phase 3 whereby they put many more ground troops into Gaza — thousands more — and they push more deeply into the population centers like Gaza City and other densely populated areas of Gaza, which inevitably will bring much more fighting and many more casualties" on both sides, Shuster says.

Earlier this week, both sides had agreed to daily three-hour lulls in the fighting to allow relief workers to distribute aid. But battles continued on Saturday during the scheduled lull. The United Nations discontinued aid shipments into Gaza through Israeli-controlled border crossings after Israeli forces killed a U.N. truck driver earlier in the week.

Both Israel and Hamas are ignoring a U.N. Security Council demand for a cease-fire, but efforts continue in Egypt to cobble together an agreement. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas met Saturday with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Cairo. Hamas and Turkey also sent delegations to Cairo. But the talks aren't making much progress.

"The real hard issue is what to do about the Egyptian-Gaza border," Shuster says. Israel wants the border sealed before it agrees to a cease-fire, but Hamas objects to such a move. There's also disagreement about allowing an international peacekeeping force in Gaza or Egypt.

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