In Battle Over Gaza, A Slow Build-up Shows No Signs Of Ending

Jul 8, 2014
Originally published on July 8, 2014 6:13 pm

Israel stepped up its air assault on the Gaza Strip, following the killings of Israeli and Palestinian teens. Unlike air strikes in the past, Israel has tempered its initial show of force for several reasons, but the situation appears to be steadily intensifying.

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Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

And I'm Robert Siegel. Both Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas intensified their attacks today. For days, militants in the Gaza Strip have been firing missiles at Israel. They haven't killed anyone, but their numbers and range are increasing, triggering air raid sirens in many areas. And Israel has launched scores of airstrikes on Gaza. Palestinian medical officials say more than 15 people have been killed as a result. Israel has mobilized tens of thousands of reservists for a possible ground assault on the Gaza Strip. That would be a huge, dangerous and controversial undertaking. NPR's Ari Shapiro joins us from Jerusalem to discuss the latest. And Ari, what can you tell us about the attack so far?

ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: Well, here in Jerusalem around 10 p.m. local time, air raid sirens went off. I was here in my hotel. We were led to a secure storage room. Around the same time, Hamas said it had aimed a rocket at Haifa - that's a city in the north of Israel. And earlier in the evening, Israel's military said it intercepted a rocket aimed at Tel Aviv. For context, areas close to Gaza often get rockets, and air raid sirens there are kind of a fact of life. But that is not the case in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Haifa. So, all of this shows a clear escalation by Hamas militants. The Israeli military, as you mentioned, said there is no indication of casualties from this latest assault. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu released a statement. He said Israel has, quote, "significantly expanded our operations against Hamas and other terrorist organizations in Gaza." He added, "Israel is not eager for war, but the security of our citizens is our primary consideration."

SIEGEL: All of this comes after a couple of days of bombardment. Give us some broader sense of the scale of the conflict right now.

SHAPIRO: While even before this expansion that Prime Minister Netanyahu just announced, Israel's military had said it had fired on 150 targets in Gaza, in response to 160 rockets being fired from Gaza towards Israel. The military, as you mentioned is mobilizing reserve forces, thousands of troops saying that a ground invasion is possible but not imminent. If that happens, it would be a significant escalation. The Israeli defense minister Moshe Ya'alon said this battle will not end within a few days.

SIEGEL: Ari, this comes after the deaths of a Palestinian teenager and three Israeli teens. How has the violence intensified since then?

SHAPIRO: It's been a slow buildup for the last few weeks. As you mentioned, three Israeli teenagers were kidnapped and killed. A Palestinian teenager was then burned alive; apparently as an act of revenge. Ever since, there have been steadily building protests and skirmishes, first rocks and rubber bullets, and now rockets and missiles. This is the worst violence since the war in 2012 that lasted roughly a week. And when I spoke to Israelis near Gaza today, even those who support the defense have told me they have no illusions that this will create long-term peace; rather they said maybe it'll just buy a another cease-fire for a couple of years.

SIEGEL: How is this affecting living in southern Israel, and for that matter, in Gaza?

SHAPIRO: It's all that anybody talks about. One Israeli newspaper this morning printed a map showing how far various cities are from Gaza, and how many seconds you have to get to shelter if an air raid siren sounds. So, the city of Ashdod is 20 miles away and a siren means you have 45 seconds to find shelter. If you're in Ashkelon, you're 14 miles from the Gaza border, a siren means you have 30 seconds to take cover. A mother and her adult daughter who were having lunch at a cafe in Ashdod today told me, when we sit down at the restaurant, we ask the waitress where the nearest shelter is, and that way we know which way to run when the siren goes. And in Gaza, NPR's producer Ahmed Abu Hamda took photos of airstrikes in his neighborhood; huge plumes of smoke and flames. He says he's trying to make his young kids ignore the blasts, but they are pretty shaken up by them.

SIEGEL: Okay, Ari, thank you so much.

SHAPIRO: You're welcome.

SIEGEL: That's NPR's Ari Shapiro from Jerusalem. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.