Israel Allows Journalists Back Into Gaza

Israeli officials kept foreign journalists out of Gaza during the past three weeks of fighting. But now that a cease-fire is in place, journalists have been allowed to return. Most of Gaza has been devastated. A lot of Palestinians say they have plans to rebuild.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Let's get our own view now inside Gaza, now that journalists are being allowed in during the cease-fire. NPR correspondent Eric Westervelt is in Gaza City. And Eric, what have you been seeing today?

ERIC WESTERVELT: Good morning, Steve. I spent the better part of the morning up in the Tuam neighborhood in north Gaza City. It's a scene of utter devastation. Big parts of the entire neighborhood are completely destroyed. The - whole houses have been collapsed and destroyed. These weren't little - teenie shanties, Steve. We're talking three-, four-story cement buildings have been completely collapsed and destroyed. Other buildings have artillery tank and naval fire holes in them. People were picking through the rubble to try and find anything they could left of their home. People were weeping, they were pulling up in donkey carts, trying to find any of their belongings. You could just kind of go house to house for stories of civilians facing extreme loss and devastation. Some people were digging through trying to find belongings, others were saying they were looking for relatives who were still lost from the fighting.

INSKEEP: I imagine the images there overpower the words, but what words are you hearing from people?

WESTERVELT: There's a lot of sadness and anger right now; people are in shock. I was there as people were walking into their homes and, you know, opening the door seeing the back of their house just collapsed and, you know, a tank fire had taken out living rooms. I was with this one woman, she's 55 years old. Her husband was wounded by shrapnel and is recovering in a hospital. She was there with her grandkids, the house is destroyed, and she was just distraught and weeping. She at first said she blamed both Israel and Hamas, saying, what do we get from these stupid rockets Hamas has been firing? And she said to the Israelis, what do you think you're going to get by shelling innocent civilians? But then later, after spending about a half hour, hour with her, Steve, she sort of switched and started to say, you know, my kids, I encourage them to be apolitical growing up. But now, I don't see any reason not to encourage them to join Hamas to become part of the resistance. If all we're going to get is death and destruction, then we should fight on - were her words.

INSKEEP: We're talking with NPR's Eric Westervelt; he's in Gaza City. And Eric, you've touched on something that Anne Garrels also reported on a moment ago: the debate now within Israel about whether Israel used too much force. I wonder, now that you're on the scene of some of these explosions - you talk about destroyed living rooms; of course, we've heard about destroyed schools. Israel has said anytime that it was striking targets like that, it was firing at Hamas rocket launchers nearby or fighters of one kind or another. Do people, do survivors that you talk to, give a sense that they were at least in the neighborhood of Hamas fighters when they were - their homes were struck by Israeli forces?

WESTERVELT: It's mixed. Some people you talk to say yes, resistance fighters, as they call them, Hamas and Islamic Jihad and others, may have been in the area firing. But other times, the people you talk to say, look, we're not part of the resistance; we just lived in the neighborhood, and there were not resistance fighters in that area. So, it's certainly mixed. I talked to Ghazi Ahmed, a Hamas official today, and he didn't really - he conceded, Steve, that the Hamas fighters may have, indeed, been firing from amongst civilian areas. But he said, what do they want from us, we're part of the people. We're among the people. We live among the people, and Israel came and attacked us here, and that's where we stood and fought.

INSKEEP: So, let's talk about those people. Do they want to stay in Gaza? Do they want to get out? Do they want to rebuild their homes? What?

WESTERVELT: Today, many I talked to said they're hoping the international community gives money and aid to help rebuild their homes. People were literally, you know, as I said, just pawing through the rubble, and they have nothing. I talked to one person who said, I don't know where I'll go. I can go to my uncle's house, but we're a huge family. We can maybe stay there a few days a week, but we can't fit in this house. We don't know where we're going to go. We don't know how we're going to live. It's cold, it's winter, there's still shortages of electricity and water, still huge problems throughout Gaza. And they're just looking to the world now and saying, help us rebuild, help us rebuild.

INSKEEP: Very briefly - food and medical supplies, are they available?

WESTERVELT: Some are coming in through Israel. And I came in last night through Egypt, and some medical supplies were coming in. But doctors you talk to say they still would like to receive more and have crews of doctors be allowed to come in more expeditiously.

INSKEEP: Eric, thanks very much.

WESTERVELT: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Eric Westervelt. He's in Gaza City, where a cease-fire is now in effect. It's Morning Edition from NPR News.

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