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Israel Intensifies Ground Operation In Gaza


Now to the Middle East, where yesterday was the bloodiest day in the nearly two-week conflict between Hamas and Israel. According to Gaza's health ministry, 59 Palestinians were killed on Friday, that brings the death toll on that side to 300. United Nations says that one in five of the people killed have been children. Three Israelis have been killed - two are civilians and one was a soldier killed by friendly fire. NPR's Ari Shapiro is in Jerusalem. Ari, thanks for being with us.


SIMON: Israeli troops have been on the ground in Gaza for a couple of days now. What can you tell about what they've been able to do?

SHAPIRO: Remember the focus of this operation was to destroy tunnels that go under Gaza's border with Israel. Those tunnels could be used to store weapons or allow Hamas militants to enter Israel and attack. The military says so far it has destroyed more than a dozen of these tunnels. Many of them branch out into several exits on the Israeli side of the border. These were obviously not built in just the two weeks of the conflict. They've been dug over many years. And Israel seems to be using this opportunity to wipe out as many of them as they can.

SIMON: And the death toll continues to rise?

SHAPIRO: Absolutely. Even though there are troops on the ground, the casualties still seem to be coming more from airstrikes than from hand-to-hand combat. You mentioned the death toll, but it's worth saying that the number of those injured continues climbing too. The health ministry in Gaza says close to 2,300 people have been injured in the Gaza Strip - more than a quarter of them kids.

There have also been some ground clashes. Last night, Hamas troops got behind Israeli lines and attacked. A few Israeli soldiers were wounded, at least one Hamas fighter was killed. And that incident is all over the Palestinian media this morning, saying that Hamas is taking the fight to Israel, no longer just firing rockets across the border.

SIMON: And Ari, is there any prospect for a cease-fire, much less a peace agreement?

SHAPIRO: It's hard to see where a peace agreement comes from right now. Egypt tried to broker a cease-fire earlier in the week, but the Egyptian government has very little weight with Hamas right now and does not have the trust of those in the Gaza Strip. Some people are looking to Turkey as a possible broker, but Israel does not see Turkey as a reliable partner. The Israeli government just warned Israelis against traveling to Turkey because of the public mood there.

The American Secretary of State John Kerry has offered to travel to the Mideast to help broker a deal, but nobody has taken him up on that offer. He is seen as having lost some credibility when the broader peace talks he was involved in fell apart a few months ago. So there are back-channel negotiations, but right now it is really unclear where a resolution could come from.

SIMON: In the 30 seconds we have left, has the ground invasion dramatically altered the terms of the conflict?

SHAPIRO: Well, Israel says it fired 240 airstrikes on Gaza yesterday, and 135 rockets were fired from Gaza into Israel. Those numbers are not too different from what we saw earlier in the conflict. Israeli Prime Minister Bejamin Netanyahu has said the military mission on the ground could expand. That's something President Obama apparently warned against when he spoke to Prime Minister Netanyahu yesterday.

SIMON: NPR's Ari Shapiro in Jerusalem. Thanks very much for being with us.

SHAPIRO: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.