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Violence In Gaza Strip Enters A Second Week

Overnight air raids on Gaza pushed the Palestinian death toll to more than 80, with more than 700 wounded. The numbers on the Israeli side are dramatically lower — with three dead. And the Israeli prime minister says Israel is prepared to escalate the fight with ground troops. As the fighting drags into a new week, the United Nations and the Arab League are stepping up efforts to mediate.

Transcript

LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

This is MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

The day had started with more intense air attacks between Israel and the militant Hamas rulers of Gaza. Overnight air raids pushed the Palestinian death toll to more than 90, with more than 700 wounded. The numbers on the Israeli side are dramatically lower, with three dead so far.

As the fighting drags into a new week, the U.N. and the Arab League are stepping up efforts to mediate. NPR's Anthony Kuhn joins us from Gaza City to discuss developments there.

And, Anthony, give us a few more details about the fighting that took place overnight.

ANTHONY KUHN, BYLINE: Well, we've seen more Israeli airstrikes at a broad range of targets. There have also been Palestinian militant rockets launched today, as well. But the attacks on the Israeli side seem to be causing more civilian damage, and that's causing problems. Yesterday, Israeli planes hit a media center and injured journalists, which prompted criticism from press freedom groups.

Also, Israeli strikes are targeting the homes of Hama officials, and these are often in crowded residential neighborhoods. And precise as the Israeli munitions may be, there are hitting bystanders.

MONTAGNE: Remind us, on this Monday, just briefly, what started this latest round of fighting?

KUHN: One way to look at this is that we are in the sixth day of Israel's Operation Cloud Pillar. This current escalation began last Wednesday, when Israel launched the operation and assassinated Ahmed al-Jabari, the Hamas military chief. However, hostilities have been going on for days. Before that assassination, there were days of rocket attacks against Israel. There was a missile launched, an Israeli jeep. There was a firefight in which a Palestinian boy was killed. So both sides say the other side started it, and the retaliations and the killings just stretch back long before this escalation.

MONTAGNE: As we've just been saying, civilian casualties are mounting. Yesterday, among other attacks, Israeli missiles claimed the lives of nine members of one family. What effect could this have on the possibility of a ceasefire?

KUHN: So far, Renee, Israel has been fairly successful in getting Western countries to affirm Israel's right to self-defense. But as British Foreign Secretary William Hague pointed out, they're now at risk of losing that international support because of civilian casualties.

Now, the family you mentioned is the Dalu family. They were killed in an airstrike that was apparently targeting a Hamas rocket expert. But Hamas used the death of this family to mobilize support for its military response. And they called it a massacre by the Israeli forces.

Meanwhile, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon also specifically mentioned the Dalu family and the Israeli casualties in calling for a ceasefire. So, essentially, these civilian casualties are allowing Hamas to up its military response, and among diplomats, it's increasing the pressure to find a diplomatic solution.

MONTAGNE: And Anthony, the political landscape of the Middle East has been changing, of course, since the Arab Spring. Egypt has a new government that's rooted in Islam. Its president is trying to mediate a ceasefire. How could the new dynamics of the region affect this fight?

KUHN: Well, it is really quite something, the number of delegations from Arab countries that have poured into Gaza to express support and call for a ceasefire. Today, we have an Egyptian delegation of political parties and social groups that are not part of the ruling Muslim Brotherhood. And on Tuesday, an Arab League delegation will visit Gaza. All of these are generating momentum for a ceasefire, and everybody is aware that any ground assaults would complicate the efforts to get a ceasefire. And the realization sets in that an escalation of the conflict - including a ground assault - would just be a setback to the whole political process and efforts to find a solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Anthony Kuhn, speaking to us from Gaza City. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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