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In Gaza, No Sign Of Cease-Fire

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In Gaza, No Sign Of Cease-Fire

Middle East

In Gaza, No Sign Of Cease-Fire

In Gaza, No Sign Of Cease-Fire

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There is still no sign of a cease-fire in Gaza after more than two weeks of fighting. Sporadic gunbattles between Israel and Hamas continue, and the U.N. says tens of thousands of internally displaced Gaza civilians are struggling to find shelter from the fighting.

MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

From NPR News, this is All Things Considered. I'm Melissa Block.

MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

And I'm Michele Norris. On the 17th day of the war in Gaza there is still no sign of a cease-fire. Israeli troops and Hamas militants fought sporadic and at times, fierce gun battles. But the Israeli military appears, for the most part, to be holding back from an all-out ground assault into Gaza City. The UN says there are now tens of thousands of civilians in Gaza struggling to find shelter from the fighting. NPR's Eric Westervelt sent us this report.

ERIC WESTERVELT: Twenty-six-year-old Numir Sultan(ph) left his home on the eastern edge of Gaza City with 18 family members after he was wounded by shrapnel that he says was from an Israeli air strike. Al-Shifa Hospital staff now want him to leave. They need his bed for more urgent cases, but Sultan is now homeless and like tens of thousands of Gazans is scared and unsure what to do and where to go.

Mr. NMIR SULTAN (Gazan Resident): (Through Translator) May God help them, there are so many injured people here. My leg is hurt and they gave me first aid but now the hospital released me to make space for others. Where can I go? I can't go out there from here. My whole neighborhood is destroyed and there is bombardment all the time and anyone who walks there will be targeted. I'll wait for God's mercy. Where can I go?

WESTERVELT: Sultan says he's afraid to go to a UN shelter because two have been hit by Israeli fire. That sense among Gaza civilians, if there is no place to run to gets worse every day as the war grinds on. The UN today said there are now more than 30,000 civilians in U.N. shelters with tens of thousands more waiting to get in and thousands of others who fled to homes of relatives or friends. Unlike most conflicts, civilians in Gaza are not being allowed to cross borders to escape the fighting. Fred Abraham is a Senior Emergencies Researcher with Human Rights Watch.

Mr. FRED ABRAHAM, (Senior Emergencies Researcher with Human Rights Watch): Israel with the complicity of Egypt has not been letting civilians flee from the conflict zone so essentially there is no safe place to go. Israel's been dropping these leaflets warning civilians to flee their homes. Where are they supposed to go? I spoke today with a family that is trapped up in northern Gaza - it's about 30 people with food for three days and water for three days. They cannot leave the area.

WESTERVELT: Palestinian doctors say the Gaza death toll is now above 900. Three Israeli civilians and 10 soldiers have been killed. While ground fighting in Gaza and Hamas rocket fire into Israel continued today, it appears the Israeli army for now is holding off pressing its assault deeper into Gaza City - what Israel has called "Phase Three" of the attack.

Mr. ZE'EV LIVNA, (Retired Major General, Israeli Defense Forces): We can capture and kill every Hamas soldier but I don't think that we should do it. I think it's a waste of life among both sides.

WESTERVELT: That's Israeli retired Major General Ze'ev Livna, a former Israel ground forces commander and senior military adviser to two prime ministers. General Livna does not think it would be worth the diplomatic and political damage or the destruction and continued loss of life to press deeper into densely populated Gaza.

Mr. ZE'EV LIVNA: I believe that we don't want to control the Palestinian population in Gaza which is possible, but it means that there is a big risk that many people who are not involved are going to be held from among the Gazan population and I am not sure that it is in our interest to do it. We want only to make sure that the Israeli population along the border is not terrorized again like it was before.

WESTERVELT: But the question for Israel now is whether it can halt the rocket fire without pushing deeper or reoccupying Gaza. Israeli media is reporting splits within the Israeli leadership over what to do now militarily and how to achieve a durable cease-fire that also prevents Hamas from rearming. Hamas leaders in Gaza are underground hiding from Israeli air strikes. Hamas officials in exile, however, say they will not stop launching rockets until Israeli forces withdraw and all borders are reopened. Eric Westervelt NPR News.

NORRIS: And we get help with that story from NPR News assistant Ahmad Abu Hamda in Gaza city. Israel continues to bar foreign journalists from entering Gaza.

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Fighting Intensifies Near Gaza's Urban Centers

NPR's Mike Shuster Reports On 'Morning Edition'

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Israeli troops fought fierce gun battles with Hamas militants on Monday as the Israelis edged closer to Gaza's densely populated urban center, even as special envoy Tony Blair expressed optimism that the elements of a peace agreement were in hand.

The former British prime minister represents the quartet of Mideast peacemakers — including the United States, the European Union, the United Nations and Russia — that have pressed for a cease-fire deal. Blair met with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak Monday, shortly after Hamas delegations held talks with Egyptian security officials about possible terms for a new truce.

Blair said the elements of an agreement "are there," but he stopped short of saying there had been agreement from all parties. Israel has demanded an end to Hamas' arms smuggling through tunnels from Egypt to Gaza, and Hamas has insisted that all Gaza border crossings be open and Israeli blockades be lifted.

In Gaza City on Monday, black smoke billowed over the eastern suburbs, where Israeli forces and Hamas fighters battled through the night. Israeli forces attacked scores of targets, including some of the smuggling tunnels.

Egypt sometimes allows wounded people and medical supplies through its border with Gaza, but the crossing has been closed to ordinary traffic since Hamas seized control there in 2007.

Meanwhile, Gaza-based Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said the militant faction is determined to continue fighting despite Israel's attacks. At the same time, Haniyeh said Hamas would cooperate with efforts to achieve a cease-fire.

Haniyeh's remarks came in a taped message from an undisclosed location in Gaza. He, like all of the Hamas leaders, has been in hiding since the fighting began for fear falling victim to an Israeli assassination.

"Gaza will not break — our victory over the Zionists is near," the message said, adding that Hamas will cooperate with all efforts to achieve a cease-fire.

Palestinian rockets continued to hit southern Israel on Monday, though there were fewer of them. Despite a tightening Israeli cordon, militants still managed to fire at least four rockets Monday morning.

Also on Monday, President Bush reiterated that Hamas must stop firing rockets if a peace deal is to be reached.

Speaking at his final news conference as president, Bush said the challenge of helping the Palestinians "is always complicated by the fact that people are willing to murder to stop the advance of freedom."

Asked if a Middle East peace agreement could still be achieved despite his administration's failure to do so, Bush responded, "Will this ever happen? I think it will. And I know we have advanced the process."

The Israeli army announced Sunday that it had begun sending reserve units into Gaza to assist thousands of ground forces already in the territory. The use of reserves is a strong signal that Israel is planning to step up the offensive, which already has killed some 870 Palestinians.

But Israeli forces were still holding back from a threatened third stage of their deadliest assault on Palestinian militants in decades — a push into the city of Gaza.

The U.N. Human Rights Council on Monday adopted a resolution strongly condemning Israel for its Gaza operation. It called for an independent fact-finding mission to investigate all violations of international human rights law.

The resolution passed by a vote of 33-1, with 13 abstentions. The sole dissenting vote was cast by Canada, which complained the text was unbalanced and made no mention of the Hamas rocket attacks against Israel.

The document also demands that Israel withdraw its military forces immediately from Gaza, stop targeting civilians and medical facilities, and open all borders. It also calls for an investigation into Israel's shelling last week of U.N. facilities that killed Palestinian civilians.

Israel launched the offensive on Dec. 27, hitting Gaza with dozens of airstrikes before sending in ground forces.

From NPR staff and wire reports