Israel-Palestinian Fighting Takes A Vast Toll In The Gaza Strip

May 20, 2021
Originally published on May 20, 2021 9:28 am
Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The White House says President Biden gave Israel's prime minister an expectation yesterday. He told Benjamin Netanyahu that he wanted to see a de-escalation in Israel's war with Hamas in Gaza. Israeli strikes continued overnight. We begin our coverage with NPR's Jackie Northam, who's in the southern Israeli town of Sderot near the Gaza Strip. Hey there, Jackie.

JACKIE NORTHAM, BYLINE: Hi, Steve.

INSKEEP: Sounds almost peaceful where you are, although I know that's deceptive. What has happened overnight?

NORTHAM: Well, Israeli warplanes pummeled Gaza again last night, and the military says it struck dozens of targets. You know, we're into the 11th day of this conflict, and now there are serious shortages of clean water and electricity in Gaza, and thousands of people are now homeless. And meanwhile, Hamas continues to fire rockets into Israel. The Israeli military said about 70 were launched last night, which is fewer than other nights. But so far, Hamas has launched more than 4,000 over the course of this conflict, and that's more than ever before. And the thing is, those rockets are going much further than ever. I was in the south of Israel seven years ago covering the same sort of conflict. And at that time, the rockets were hitting small communities. Now they're landing in more populated regions, which, of course, has created real security concerns.

INSKEEP: What are Israelis telling you about that?

NORTHAM: Well, Steve, I'm talking to you from a, like you said, a place called Sderot, which is the closest Israeli town to the Gaza Strip. And it's pretty tense here. You can hear the sound of Israel shelling Gaza. And as soon as we got here, we were shown a shelter where we have to run to if a siren goes off, and you only have about 15 seconds to do that. I spoke earlier with Ayel Hajbi (ph), who is a senior security officer with the regional council, and he said that about 900 rockets were fired at this region over the course of this conflict. But, you know, he and many people in this area want Israel to keep going after Hamas. Let's have a listen to him.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

AYEL HAJBI: (Through interpreter) I can tell you that even though we're not people who are warmongers, we are definitely in favor of the ongoing campaign. And we need this campaign so as to give for the long run safety and security for the children who live here.

NORTHAM: You know, Steve, though, continued Israeli airstrikes can be nothing short of worrying for civilians in Gaza because they've been sustained over the course of this conflict.

INSKEEP: President Biden, as we mentioned, has been indicating ever more strongly he'd like this to end. How has that exchange with Benjamin Netanyahu gone?

NORTHAM: Biden yesterday pressed Benjamin Netanyahu to de-escalate the military action, like you said. But, you know, Netanyahu indicated afterwards that he was not ready to stop, especially as there were still rockets being fired into Israel. Here he is here.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: There are only two ways that you can deal with them. You can either conquer them, and that's always an open possibility, or you can deter them. And we are engaged right now in forceful deterrence. But I have to say, we don't rule out anything.

NORTHAM: You know, Steve, it may be that Netanyahu wants to project that whatever he does, it is on his time schedule rather than on Hamas' time schedule.

INSKEEP: Doesn't want to appear to be ordered around by the United States either, I would imagine.

NORTHAM: Right. Right.

INSKEEP: Jackie, thanks so much.

NORTHAM: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: Jackie Northam is just outside Gaza, which is lined by Israeli fences and, in places, prison-style guard towers and walls. Inside those walls, Palestinians report many different experiences. For days on this program, we have heard of people killed as Israeli airstrikes collapse buildings. Other people face shortages of electricity and clean water. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.