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Israel Targets Tunnels, But Hits Elsewhere — Including Gaza Hospital


U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Cairo today for talks on ending the bloodshed in the Gaza Strip. Palestinian casualties have spiraled. More than 550 people have died in two weeks, mostly civilians according to health officials there. The Israeli military says 25 of its soldiers have been killed since it launched a ground invasion last week. The military says it's targeting tunnels militants use to attack Israel. But today, an Israeli strike hit a hospital in central Gaza, killing people in the intensive care unit.

We go now to NPR's Emily Harris in Gaza for the latest. And Emily, what more have you learned about this hospital attack?

EMILY HARRIS, BYLINE: This attack happened in central Gaza in the city of Deir al-Balah. We spoke to a doctor who was at the hospital when it happened. He said there'd been intensive shelling in the area all day, but the attack actually hitting the hospital caught him by surprise. Here he is, Dr. Eyad Abushayerah describing the attack.

EYAD ABUSHAYERAH: (Foreign language spoken).

HARRIS: I was doing rounds in the cardiology section, he said, when suddenly a shell hit the second floor. All the windows downstairs broke and everyone dove onto the floor. We spoke with him three hours after the attack and he was still at the hospital. He said bombardments were continuing around the area and people were too afraid to leave.

CORNISH: Now what does Israel say about what happened, and why was this hospital hit?

HARRIS: Well, the Israeli military released a statement saying that they had conducted an initial investigation and that that research suggested - that was the word that they used - that anti-tank missiles were stored near the hospital. And the statement also said that Israeli shelling hit the stockpile, it doesn't say how big it was or how much it was destroyed.

Several human rights groups have criticized this attack on the hospital today. Amnesty International put out a statement saying the shelling of this hospital adds to quote, "the list of possible war crimes," unquote, that Amnesty International said needs independent investigation.

CORNISH: Meanwhile, Israel has said that it found militants trying to sneak into the country from a Gaza tunnel today. What more is known about that?

HARRIS: Israel's military has uncovered a number of tunnels going from Gaza under the double electronic fence that surrounds it into Israel. And Israel says this is a network of tunnels that were devised specifically to attack Israeli communities. A key aim - a key stated aim of the Israeli ground invasion in Gaza is to destroy these tunnels. And Audie, I should say, these aren't little like mole holes. They're often tall enough to stand up in. Some of them have electricity and communication lines. It's been an investment by Hamas. Israel's been aware of these tunnels for at least the past year or so, but this is the first time they've really been used in a fight against Israel by Hamas.

CORNISH: Finally, Emily, as this fighting continues, Gazans continue to flee their homes. What's the situation like for them?

HARRIS: Extremely crowded. Over 100,000 have gone to United Nations-run schools for shelter. This morning, a new one opened in a town just north of Gaza city. At 6 a.m., there were 2,000 people there. And if you divide it by the number of classrooms, that's 80 people per classroom. Many people are sleeping in the courtyard, of course. People are also stacking up with relatives. And most people would not be - would prefer not to be there, would prefer to go home, they tell us when we talk with them, but many don't want to go home until there's a cease-fire. And as you mentioned, Secretary of State John Kerry just got to Egypt to try to push for that. And people here in Gaza know that that those discussions are going on.

CORNISH: That is NPR's Emily Harris in Gaza. Emily, thank you.

HARRIS: Thanks, Audie. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

International Correspondent Emily Harris is based in Jerusalem as part of NPR's Mideast team. Her post covers news related to Israel, the West Bank and Gaza Strip. She began this role in March of 2013.