LIANE HANSEN, host:
From NPR News, this is Weekend Edition. I'm Liane Hansen. Israeli troops backed by tanks and warplanes moved into the Gaza Strip overnight. They encountered heavy resistance from Palestinian fighters. Israeli officials say dozens of Palestinian fighters had been killed, but Hamas confirmed only four of them. Officials in Gaza told the Associated Press that at least 31 civilians had died. The Israeli military said one soldier had been killed, and 30 of its troops had been wounded. NPR's Eric Westervelt is at the Israel-Gaza border. And Eric, can you describe the situation where you are?
ERIC WESTERVELT: Hi, Liane. I'm in a hilltop, overlooking north Gaza. I can see Beit Hanoun and some of the other outlying villages on the outskirts of Gaza City. There's been pretty heavy gunfire throughout the morning. There's been the boom of tank rounds as the Israeli army has pushed into these eastern outskirts of Gaza City. You can see occasional plumes of black and white smoke from Israeli army strikes. There's some - still some air strikes going on, there's occasional flood of outgoing artillery, and there's some occasional incoming rocket fire from Hamas and other militant groups in Gaza.
HANSEN: The Israelis continue to bar journalists from entering Gaza. So what have you been able to learn about the situation there?
WESTERVELT: Well, I've talked by phone to several people inside Gaza City. I talked with one person I know who is in Beit Hanoun, in the north, and he really described a scene of fear, panic and exhaustion. He said he and 11 of his family members were holed up in one room - the room with the fewest windows. They have no electricity, no running water, very little food. He says his kids were all panicked.
I also spoke with another civilian in Gaza City. He said he fled his apartment building abruptly, as did many of the people in the building, Liane, after some heavily-armed militants took up fighting positions inside his building. So panicked residents fled to safer areas, as everyone inside Gaza and on the outskirts is bracing for more violence and heavier clashes as Israel pushes deeper into the city.
HANSEN: Have you been able to learn anything about the objectives the Israelis have for this ground offensive, and how long it's going to last?
WESTERVELT: Well, Israeli military officials and people on the ground here say it'll take time, and it will take as long as it takes. They say the objective, Liane, is to try to stop the Hamas rocket fire and mortar fire. So far, it has not. I've had several Kassam rockets whiz over my head today, including one that landed just a couple hundred yards away. There's also been some mortar fire in and around this hillside from Gaza that I have seen and heard. So officials here say this operation will take time. You're not going to see an immediate reduction and so far, you have not seen a dramatic reduction.
HANSEN: NPR's Eric Westervelt at the Israeli border with the Gaza Strip. Eric, thank you very much.
WESTERVELT: Thank you.
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