Fear In Gaza As Bombings Gain Support In Israel Airstrikes against Gaza have continued, as has rocket fire into southern Israel. Most Israelis solidly back their government's campaign, but some ask whether the Jewish state can bomb its way to a new security situation with Gaza's Islamist rulers.
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Fear In Gaza As Bombings Gain Support In Israel

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Fear In Gaza As Bombings Gain Support In Israel

Fear In Gaza As Bombings Gain Support In Israel

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

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

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel. First this hour, the latest from the Gaza Strip and southern Israel. Israel's bombing offensive eased somewhat today. As a result, there were fewer casualties among Palestinians in Gaza. But still the bombing did not stop, nor did rockets shot from Gaza into southern Israel. Gaza medical officials say that since the assault began four days ago, more than 370 Palestinians have been killed. Four Israelis have been killed. NPR's Eric Westervelt is in southern Israel, and he sent this report about what's happening there and in Gaza.

ERIC WESTERVELT: Levi Gavai lives in the Israeli town of Sderot bordering Gaza, which has taken heavy rocket fire for months. Gavai, who works at a nearby kibbutz, says he's firmly behind his country's assault on Gaza. Asked about the rising civilian casualty toll just across the border, Gavai says it's regrettable.

Mr. LEVI GAVAI (Resident, Sderot, Israel): (Through translator) If innocent civilians are getting hurt, I'm sorry about it. We're not targeting them. We're targeting Hamas. But when they shoot at Sderot, they're targeting civilians, not soldiers. Israel cannot stand by while its cities are being bombarded.

WESTERVELT: The Israeli air force today and yesterday expanded its target list, striking the homes of Hamas and other militant leaders in Gaza. Today, bombings reduced several government ministries to rubble. The Islamic University was bombed again. More targets means a deeper fear for Gaza civilians. Few of the territory's 1.5 million residents are moving around by day, and hardly anyone dares to move at all at night. Gaza resident Hossam al Madhoun says people are afraid someone in an apartment next to them might be targeted next - perhaps a member of Hamas's armed wing, Izzedine al Kassam Brigades.

Mr. HOSSAM AL MADHOUN (Resident, Gaza): It's not easy to figure what's safe and what's not anymore, where you don't know if your neighbor is a leader in al Kassam or not - these people undercover. And they start to target mosques, they start to target ministries. The Ministry of Culture was bombarded. Who will ever think that the Ministry of Culture will be bombarded? So, how come they will figure what is the safe place anymore?

WESTERVELT: That uncertainty is likely part of the psychological warfare side of Israel's campaign, meant to weaken popular grassroots support for Hamas. Already, it's had a devastating effect on civilians. Hossam says the attacks have badly shaken his wife and young daughter.

Mr. MADHOUN: But physically safe so far. Physically, only, safe so far. But I don't know - I don't know how much damage my daughter has in her mind with all of this (bleep) violence. I don't know. My wife cannot hide it. But so, she stumble then she don't feel her legs. She's told them to get out and when it start, these bombardment, she cries in fear and panic.

WESTERVELT: Most Israelis solidly back their government's campaign. But the question some are asking is whether the Jewish state can actually bomb its way to a new security situation with Gaza's Islamist rulers. Israeli political analyst Yaron Ezrahi says the rocket fire on Israeli communities is intolerable and no state could allow it to continue. But he says, clear political and diplomatic tracks are needed alongside the military one - even through a third party, and he sees none of that so far.

Dr. YARON EZRAHI (Professor, Political Science, Hebrew University, Jerusalem): Common sense and expertise make it very clear that there is no military solution.

WESTERVELT: Ezrahi argues that Hamas's power and support are so entrenched in Gaza society, through its social, religious and educational arms, that military force alone simply cannot undermine the militant group. Ezrahi also questions the Israeli government's assumption that a harsh, sustained attack on Hamas targets will prompt ordinary Gazans to turn against Hamas.

Dr. EZRAHI: It seems to me that the Israeli action is more likely to trigger a consolidation of the hatred and hostility of the civilian population in Gaza against Israel and generate a thousand more potential suicide bombers from the age of five to a much older age.

WESTERVELT: There are reports the French government is proposing a 48-hour humanitarian truce to allow much-needed food and medicine to enter Gaza. Israel Radio is reporting the government is considering the proposal. Eric Westervelt, NPR News, southern Israel.

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