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Deadly Violence Escalates In Gaza Strip


This is MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer.


And I'm Steve Inskeep. Early today, Israel resumed its attacks on Gaza. The Israeli action is in response to rocket strikes by the Palestinian militant group Hamas.

WERTHEIMER: Yesterday, the top military commander of Hamas was killed in an airstrike by Israel's defense forces. This is the heaviest fighting in the Palestinian territory, in years. Joining us now, from Gaza City, is NPR's Anthony Kuhn. Good morning, Anthony.


WERTHEIMER: What is happening, where you are now?

KUHN: Well, I've just arrived in Gaza City, and I saw numerous explosions in Gaza - some sending up huge plumes of smoke into the air. The border crossing is open, and journalists are coming in. Now, on the way down from Jerusalem to Gaza, I was passing by a town called Kiryat Malachi. And I saw four or five explosions in the sky, that left plumes of smoke. And it was then reported that rockets hit this town, and killed several Israelis. What I saw, apparently, was missile-defense-system rockets trying to take out incoming missiles. So overnight, we've heard that a number of Palestinians have been killed. Air raids have been continuing on Palestinian infrastructure in Gaza City; I believe in an attempt to pre-empt any retaliatory strikes by Hamas and other militant groups. And I am, right now, on the coast, and I've been told that there are Israeli warships off the coast.

WERTHEIMER: This seems like a particularly dangerous time for Israel to be mounting an extremely aggressive response - given tensions in Egypt, Syria and Iran. Why is this happening now?

KUHN: Well, a lot of people were saying this was not a good time because Israeli elections are coming up in January; also because there's an administration in Egypt which is very concerned about the violence, and they recalled their ambassador yesterday. And there is also disturbance up on the northern border with Syria, on the Golan Heights. At the same time, since Saturday, there have been hundreds of rockets hitting southern Israel - fired by Hamas, and other militant groups - and that was costing the administration of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu politically, as well. So if he didn't take action, that would have cost him. People are surprised, though, that the strike came so quickly. Prime Minister Netanyahu said, just the day before the strike, that he would decide the time and choosing. And people were debating whether to continue this policy of assassinating top Hamas leaders; and then the next day, it happened. So it was very swift.

WERTHEIMER: What about reaction from the international community?

KUHN: It's a matter of deep concern for the international community. The Egyptian president, Mohammad Morsi, recalled his country's ambassador yesterday, and called on the Arab League to convene an emergency meeting. Also, the U.N. Security Council held a meeting last night, in order to discuss the situation.

WERTHEIMER: Is there any sign at all, that either side is prepared to talk about backing this down?

KUHN: Well, before this fighting broke out, there were reports that Egypt had brokered a cease-fire between the two sides; and then Hamas claimed that Israel had violated that agreement, and that they had not really committed to the cease-fire.

WERTHEIMER: Anthony Kuhn, thank you very much.

KUHN: Thank you.

WERTHEIMER: Anthony Kuhn, reporting from Gaza City.

INSKEEP: And we also have this news: The Israeli army says today a rocket has landed on the outskirts of Tel Aviv. That is Israel's largest city. And this is the point farthest from Gaza from which we've heard of a rocket landing, so far. The rocket strike caused no deaths or injuries, but it raises the prospect of further Israeli retaliation. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Anthony Kuhn is NPR's correspondent based in Seoul, South Korea, reporting on the Korean Peninsula, Japan, and the great diversity of Asia's countries and cultures. Before moving to Seoul in 2018, he traveled to the region to cover major stories including the North Korean nuclear crisis and the Fukushima earthquake and nuclear disaster.