Israel: Rocket Shield Is Deflecting Gaza Attacks
MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
And I'm Audie Cornish. In the Gaza Strip today, three Palestinian civilians and two militants were killed in Israeli air strikes. That raises the death toll in Gaza to 23 in four days of violence and dozens of rockets have rained down on southern Israel, causing several injuries.
NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro has the story.
LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, BYLINE: In Gaza today, families were mourning their dead.
SUFIAN EL HUSUMI: (Foreign Language Spoken).
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Sufian el Husumi(ph) is the uncle of one of those slain today. He was 65 year old, Sufian says, and he worked the land. When the Israelis fired, he was watering his tomatoes and checking on his greenhouses with his 35 year old daughter. She also died in the air strike, he says. A 15 year old boy was also killed today in Gaza.
Israel says the civilians died because militants were hiding among the local population, firing their rockets into Israel. People in one Gaza community told NPR that militants had been operating in the area, but say the civilians were innocent.
This current round of fighting, the worst for many months, began on Friday, when Israel assassinated the head of the popular resistance committees. A militant group, Israel said, was planning an attack from Egyptian territory similar to one last August, which left eight Israelis dead.
In response, several militant groups began firing rockets into Israel. Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, has been observing a cease fire since the end of the Gaza War three years ago and it's not believed to be directly involved in this round of fighting. To date, Israel hasn't targeted its leaders.
Egypt is trying to broker an end to the hostilities. Hamas spokesman, Fawzi Barhoum, told NPR in Gaza today that Israel must back down first.
FAWZI BARHOUM: (Foreign language spoken).
GARCIA-NAVARRO: The ball is in Israel's court, he says. They must stop their aggression. Israel, though, says it will continue and even expand its operation while rockets are falling on Israeli cities, and today, they did in numbers.
But there have been few Israeli casualties and the main reason is what is called Iron Dome. On a hilltop, a radar is perched facing the Gaza Strip. Nearby is a battery of missiles that intercept anything deemed a threat coming from Gaza. Iron Dome has had a 90 percent success rate, according to the Israel defense forces.
Brigadier General Doron Gavish is an Israeli Air Defense Commander.
DORON GAVISH: This is really the game changer from our point of view because now we have the full basket, I would say, of options. We have the attack as an option and we have the defense as an option. Tens of rockets that will aim to the cities of Israel to intercept it by the Iron Dome system.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Iron Dome has been underfunded until now. It was viewed with suspicion by some inside the Israeli military. They lobbied for scarce resources to be allocated to Israel's conventional offensive capabilities, tanks, airplanes. There are only three Iron Dome batteries deployed, but the public is now clamoring for more.
But while Iron Dome is impressive, it's not infallible. In the city of Ashdod today, a rocket landed in a residential area, shattering windows and terrifying the local population.
LUBA BOXER: (Foreign language spoken).
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Luba Boxer lives in an apartment building near where the rocket landed. She says she heard the sirens and tried to get to the bomb shelter, but there wasn't enough time. Then there was a loud explosion and black smoke, she says, and glass blew everywhere.
(SOUNDBITE OF SIRENS)
GARCIA-NAVARRO: As we were speaking, there was a warning of another attack, sending everyone scurrying again for cover.
So we're now coming into the bomb shelter with the residents of this building and, indeed, the sirens have gone off again and now we're having to come in here.
BOXER: (Foreign language spoken).
GARCIA-NAVARRO: As we made our way outside, we were told that, this time, the rocket was intercepted by Iron Dome. Luba Boxer wants it all to stop. All we want, she says, is to be safe.
Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News.
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