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Conflict Continues In Gaza Strip, With No Cease-Fire In Sight


The conflict continues between Israel and militants in the Gaza strip. Health officials in Gaza report 16 people were killed there today. That raises the total number killed by Israeli airstrikes to more than 120 since early Tuesday morning, when the current Israeli military operation began. Nearly a dozen Israelis have been seriously injured by rocket fire from Gaza. And there appears to be no concrete progress towards a cease-fire. NPR's Emily Harris joins us from Gaza City. What's happening today, Emily?

EMILY HARRIS, BYLINE: Well, earlier this morning it seemed by Israeli military numbers that rocket fire from Gaza had slowed down a bit, to just half a dozen rockets over a 10 hour period or so. That's compared to nearly 700 since early Tuesday morning. But the steady pace has picked back up again. Israeli strikes on Gaza from planes and from ships off-shore in the Mediterranean are also continuing. In residential areas, and also last night, a Mosque was destroyed as well as a bank used by Hamas - that's the militant Islamic group that Israel blames for the current escalation.

Israeli press reports say there is a cease fire being drafted by a couple of Arab States. Those Israeli reports also say that Israel is open to discuss a cease fire, but claim that Hamas needs some kind of victory in this conflict. But publically, both sides say they're pressing forward with fighting. A Hamas spokesman yesterday mentioned an attack on an Israeli jeep, saying that if a ground war happens, Gaza will be a cemetery for Israeli soldiers.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said he's exploring all options to end this conflict, but he also says that military strikes will continue until Israel can be certain that there's no more rocket fire from Gaza. Whether this will escalate into a ground conflict is still the main question people here are watching.

KEITH: And what is it like in Gaza right now?

HARRIS: Oh, it's kind of odd. Really, it's quiet. The streets are quiet. There's this wariness, though, that, you know, death could burst from the sky at any second. Obviously, this is something that Israelis are experiencing as well with rocket fire there. But here, there are no warning sirens. There's not an Iron Dome to intercept anything. The military strength of Israel is tremendously more powerful than the military strength of Hamas or Islamic Jihad or other groups here. In some cases, Israel does warn people about strikes. For example, I spoke to a woman this morning whose neighbor is part of Hamas, that that person got a phone call this morning to get out of the house. He alerted the neighbors. This is sort of normal. She burst into tears. Her husband said, don't cry in front of the children. She took the kids to a friend's. She went to work.

KEITH: And a normal life continues in the midst of all this?

HARRIS: Well, in some ways, it has to. If you aren't right next to a rocket attack, you might not even know it happens - or close enough by to hear it. I did speak to a man this morning whose, you know, baby came two weeks early three days ago. And he had to take the baby boy to the doctor last night at night. He had to do it even though he didn't want to be driving around at night. So, yes, people do carry on as they can.

KEITH: And briefly - we don't have much time - but there have been similar flare-ups like this in recent years. Is there any sense of what's coming next in this conflict?

HARRIS: The big question is whether there will be a ground invasion. Israel is preparing for that with troops outside and also has warned Gazans in the border areas to leave. But the big question is, what do both sides need before this conflict can end? Is Israel going to let Hamas be in control of the Gaza Strip, which they are still, although, formally they've stepped out of the government role. Does Hamas need some kind of victory, even letting concrete into the Gaza Strip - something that Israel controls very tightly - even that might be enough of a victory to call things off. But no one knows.

KEITH: NPR's Emily Harris in Gaza City. Thanks so much.

HARRIS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.