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New Year's Day: No Letup In Gaza Air Attacks

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's Morning Edition from NPR News. Good morning, I'm Steve Inskeep. The new year in Gaza began the way the old one ended, with Israeli jets in the air and bombs hitting the ground. Israeli jets struck multiple targets, including the Palestinian parliament building in Gaza City. Israeli naval forces also fired at targets inside the territory. And we're going to talk about how, if at all, the situation is changing with NPR's Mike Shuster. He's covering the story from Jerusalem. And Mike, what's the pattern of the Israeli strikes?

MIKE SHUSTER: Well, the pattern is pretty much the way it's been over the last six days, Steve. During the night Israeli warplanes hit a Hamas government complex in Gaza City that included the Ministry of Justice and the legislative assembly building, according to information furnished by the Israeli Defense Force. Hamas says the Israelis also hit buildings that housed the Transportation and Education Ministry. There were also Israeli air strikes on tunnels at the southern border of Gaza with Egypt where Israel says Hamas has been smuggling in weapons.

The Israelis targeted what they called a weapons manufacturing and storage facility in central Gaza. And the Israeli navy has gotten into the operation with ships off the coast hitting Hamas coastal outposts and rocket-launching spots, according to the Israeli Defense Force. The death toll continues to rise among Palestinians. It's pushing 400 now. That's according to Palestinian and U.N. sources. Over the past six days, there's been a total of about 500 sorties by warplanes against targets in Gaza. Hundreds more carried out by helicopters. It actually - Steve, it actually looks like the - that Israel is beginning to run out of new targets to hit.

INSKEEP: Well, as they begin to run out of new targets to hit, Mike Shuster, let me ask about something you said there. You said that they'd struck weapons manufacturing sites - at least according to the Israelis - and that they had attacked rocket-launching sites. But are the Israelis any closer to their goal, which is to stop rocket fire from coming out of Gaza into Israel?

SHUSTER: No, they're not. Rockets were fired from Gaza yesterday, and they reached all the way to the city of Beersheba to the east, which is about 24 miles away. They also hit the coastal city of Ashdod, about the same distance north of Gaza. And this is, in fact, a longer range rocket that's typical for the rocket attacks from Gaza. Since this current round of intense rocket attacks began before Christmas, three Israeli civilians and one soldier have been killed. Yesterday, actually, the civilian causalities in Israel could have been much worse because one of the rockets hit a school in Beersheba. It had been closed, and there was no one there, no children at the time. But if there were, it could have been far worse.

INSKEEP: So could the Israelis send in ground troops next?

SHUSTER: They could. The Israeli Defense Force has deployed ground troops and tanks along the border with Gaza. They continue to beef up those forces. They've called up thousands of reservists. Whether Israel should launch a ground offensive against Gaza is a subject of intense debate here in Israel. One Israeli newspaper this morning is reporting that the military has been given a green light by Israel's civilian political leaders for a short but intense ground campaign. Right now the weather is bad. It's cold and rainy. And that would put off any ground offensive likely. And there are opinion polls here, interestingly enough, that are showing that only a small minority of the Israeli public wants to see an attack from the ground.

INSKEEP: Well, if only a small minority wants to see an attack, is there any motion toward peace or a truce?

SHUSTER: No, unfortunately there isn't. Yesterday, a French diplomatic initiative for a 48-hour truce to allow for humanitarian aid and food deliveries was rejected by Israel. And Hamas showed no interest in it either. There's, in fact, a lot of diplomatic activity going on involving the U.S., Europe, Egypt, and Turkey, but nothing is emerging yet that looks like it can have any real effect on this conflict.

INSKEEP: Mike, thanks very much. That's NPR's Mike Shuster in Jerusalem. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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