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Gaza Simmers; Cease-Fire Resisted

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Gaza Simmers; Cease-Fire Resisted

Middle East

Gaza Simmers; Cease-Fire Resisted

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This is Weekend Edition from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Israel's military attack on Hamas in the Gaza Strip ended its third week as air and ground forces attacked more than 50 targets overnight and today. Fierce fighting continues on both sides as they ignore a U.N. resolution calling for an immediate cease-fire. Palestinian doctors in Gaza say that more than 800 people have been killed so far, nearly half of them civilians. Thirteen Israelis have been killed since the fighting began, including three civilians. We're joined now by NPR's Eric Westervelt in Jerusalem. Eric, thanks for being with us.

ERIC WESTERVELT: Good morning, Scott.

SIMON: And we're told that ground battles continue in the north and the east side of Gaza City. What's the latest?

WESTERVELT: That's right. We're told firefights are ongoing today. The Israeli military says they killed at least 15 Hamas gunmen overnight and early today. Civilians, of course, continue to die as well, Scott. According to Palestinian medical officials, an Israeli tank round this morning killed eight civilians in the Jabaliya refugee camp north of Gaza City. We can independently verify that. Israel continues to bar journalists from entering Gaza. But as the ground offensive continues, we're getting more and more of these reports every day and details of rising civilian casualty tolls.

The Israeli military says Hamas is using civilians as human shields. Hamas denies that. Doctors in Gaza say the number of civilians wounded, Scott, in the fighting is really staggering, and it's now more than 3,000 wounded with 400 of those critical cases, we're told.

SIMON: And what it's like on the Israeli side of the border?

WESTERVELT: Well, Scott, today's been one of the quietest days of the war so far. Only half a dozen Hamas rockets have been launched so far today from Gaza. The army tells us no civilians have been injured in those attacks.

SIMON: Now, would that suggest that the Israeli attack has had some success then?

WESTERVELT: Israeli military officials say, don't read so much into that. Rocket fire is down today, but it could be up again tomorrow. And they're going to continue their operations, they say, until all rocket fire has ceased.

SIMON: Now, for the third time in recent days, Israeli forces are going to stop firing for three hours to allow aid groups in to try and help civilians. But a lot of the aid groups say that's simply not enough time.

WESTERVELT: That's right. Workers with the U.N. Relief and Works Agency, or UNRWA, in Gaza say about two-thirds of the 1.5 million people in Gaza, Scott, are without electricity now and half don't have running water. There are food shortages reported. There's been extensive damage to roads and buildings throughout Gaza City. UNRWA is passing out more emergency food supplies today, we're told, but they're not receiving any new shipments into Gaza right now.

The U.N. suspended those operations, Scott, after Israeli soldiers - according to the U.N. - opened fire on a clearly marked and flagged U.N. aid convoy and killed one of its drivers earlier this week. The military denies that it was responsible, and it's not clear when the U.N. will resume those delivery operations.

SIMON: And what's the status of the Egyptian-French proposal for ending the fighting? Apparently, there are more meetings in Cairo today, but the Egyptians themselves have some reservations.

WESTERVELT: The Egyptians themselves have some reservations about troops along its nine-mile border with Gaza. There are more talks ongoing, but they've really had no impact whatsoever on the fighting on the ground, Scott. Palestinian authority President Mahmoud Abbas today held talks with President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt. He endorsed the Egyptian cease-fire plan. He called for international monitors on the Palestinian side of the southern border between Gaza and Egypt.

But Hamas has opposed that idea. And frankly Mahmoud Abbas has become largely irrelevant during this crisis. His power is confined to the West Bank, and people on the ground are not listening to much of what he has to say.

SIMON: NPR's Eric Westervelt in Jerusalem. Thanks very much.

WESTERVELT: You're welcome.

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