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The UN In Gaza: A Glimpse Of The Ground Invasion Firsthand


In Gaza 24 schools are now doubling as humanitarian shelters. In recent days, some 22,000 Palestinians in Gaza have made their way to those shelters and they're operated by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency. Robert Turner is director of operations for the U.N. Agency in Gaza City. When we reached him earlier he said he had only limited information about the fighting.

ROBERT TURNER: We were informed the troops are crossing in the North but I'd say we don't have at this point any detail if that's more broad than that. If its just an incursion or how far their coming. So we're trying to gather information and then wait and see.

CORNISH: What are you advising people to do?

TURNER: Well, not to move for the moment if they can, but we don't have an information campaign for people. Our staff, we're telling them just to hunker down and wait and see what happens.

CORNISH: Earlier there was a five hour cease-fire today, can you tell us what you are able to observe during that time?

TURNER: Yeah. The humanitarian pause, it worked very effectively today. It was the first time in nine days we actually saw traffic jams in Gaza, people on the streets, the banks were open for the first time in more than two weeks, people lined up in the shops, it was a great opportunity for people to get out and it was an opportunity for utility workers to carry out some critical repairs to infrastructure. You know, there was very much a hope that this would be able to be a first step in establishing some trust and moving forward towards a broader cease-fire. Which obviously that's certainly not happening tonight.

CORNISH: The last time we spoke there was rocket fire behind you and after today cease-fire did that resume?

TURNER: Yeah. This was one of the busiest few hours. Rocket fire was very intense, rocket and mortar fire. And then sometime later, very large airstrikes but also naval bombardment and I understand also tank fire from the border - from the boundary fence.

CORNISH: All week people have been talking about the potential for a ground incursion and what were you hearing in shelters about people's concerns about this?

TURNER: Well, this has been a concern for every one. This is the third conflict in 5 and a half years and we've seen the devastation from just an air and boundary campaign. But we're seeing what happens in 2008 and '09 when there's a ground incursion. And, you know, the devastation is significantly higher, civilian casualties were much, much higher. Thousands of homes were damaged and destroyed. It's something that were hoping is going to be avoided.

CORNISH: Robert Turner, can you walk us through what the protocol is for your organization, United Nations Relief and Works Agency, how do you mobilize? What's the next step?

TURNER: So we have various operations teams stood up in all five areas of Gaza. We have shelter teams pre-identified for schools, should they be required. The teams are ready to roll out. We have relief supplies stationed throughout Gaza so that logistically it's simpler to get them to where they would be needed. What's happened historically is if there is a large scale ground invasion that the idea is tended to cut up Gaza into two parts. And so it's important that we have supplies in each of those components because it can be difficult to move them across these lines.

CORNISH: Robert Turner, he's director of operations for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency. He spoke to us from Gaza City. Thanks so much.

TURNER: You're welcome. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.