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Israel hits Gaza with intense airstrikes. What would a ground invasion look like?

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Israel's military is telling all civilians in Gaza's north to evacuate south within the next 24 hours. A ground invasion of Gaza appears to be imminent, a response to the surprise attack Hamas militants waged on Israel a week ago. The U.N. says an evacuation of this scale, of 1.1 million people, would lead to, quote, "devastating humanitarian consequences." Already, civilians inside Gaza are living under retaliatory Israeli airstrikes that have reduced entire neighborhoods to rubble and killed scores of civilians. Survivors have nowhere to flee. The borders are sealed, and Israel has cut off the flow of food, water, electricity and fuel. Now Israel is preparing for its next phase of war. I spoke with Mark Regev, a senior adviser to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, about what this means for civilians in Gaza.

Does this call for civilians to evacuate mean a ground invasion is imminent?

MARK REGEV: So obviously, you and the listeners will understand I can't go into operational details before things happen, for obvious reasons. But I can say this. The reason we've asked civilians to move out of where we expect fighting to happen is we don't want to see civilian casualties. And so we urge people who are next to Hamas strongholds to move away. And people in the north, where there's a whole network of Hamas tunnels and missiles and so forth, please leave the area. We don't want to see innocent civilians caught up in the crossfire.

FADEL: But where are they going to go? The borders are closed. Gaza's under siege.

REGEV: We're suggesting that they get out of that specific area where they - we know there will be intensive fighting. There are no perfect solutions here, but we're trying to save civilian lives. We didn't want this war. This was forced upon us by that brutal, horrific attacks that we saw on last Saturday. We are responding. We want to hit Hamas, and we'll hit Hamas hard. And we want to minimize civilian casualties as much as is possible. There's never been a war in modern history which hasn't involved civilian death, but we want to keep that number as low as possible.

FADEL: But the U.N. says that the time frame, the 24 hours, is impossible to move about 1.1 million people without devastating humanitarian consequences. And they're asking for it to be reversed. How much does that matter to you?

REGEV: Obviously, we take such matters seriously, but there's a dilemma here. On one hand, they say, don't attack when there are civilians in the area. On the other hand, they say, you can't ask the civilians to move. And there's a problem there because it's almost saying because Hamas works and has positioned itself amongst civilian population, that they have immunity preventing us from hitting back to their horrendous attack upon us. And so within the framework of a wartime situation of many dilemmas, asking people to leave is the best realistic proposal.

FADEL: The U.N., the U.S., many in the international community are calling for humanitarian corridors for aid to get in and paths for civilians to get out of Gaza. Why hasn't Israel created a path?

REGEV: I think people have to understand what the feeling is in Israel following the attacks over the last few days and specifically the big attack on Saturday. To ask the Israeli people today to start providing aid to Gaza while we have over a hundred hostages there held illegally - and who knows in what conditions? - after they have fired countless hundreds of rockets on Israeli cities, after they have butchered in cold blood so many of our people, you can't declare war on a country - and that's what they did; they declared war on us - and at the same time say, well, you have to supply us with this, and you have to supply us with that. No. If you declare war, there are consequences.

FADEL: What happened on Saturday - these were atrocities. That's very clear. It's been declared a war crime by human rights organizations. But some of the same human rights organizations say the cutting off of food, water and power to over 2 million people could also constitute a war crime. What is the goal of starving the civilian population?

REGEV: There's no intention to starve the civilian population. That's just not true. What has to be said is clear. They attacked us. We didn't want this war. But it's illogical to expect that Israel keep the crossings open and supplies going in and out. They attacked us brutally, and we are responding. You can't declare war and say, well, we still want normal relations. It doesn't work that way, not in the real world. And I'll give you an example. They complain that Israel has cut off the electricity. First of all, we know that they use the electricity for their own missile network to attack us. And second, their own rockets have destroyed parts of our electricity grid. So basically, what we're being asked to do is that we have to fix the electricity grid that they destroyed with their rockets so that they can have more electricity to shoot more rockets at us. It's not logical.

FADEL: What about the Rafah Border Crossing? It was open, but then it was struck three times. Is that an option for people to get out? Are there discussions?

REGEV: The Rafah Border Crossing is between Gaza and Egypt. And that's decisions for - sovereign decisions for the Egyptian government.

FADEL: But there have been Israeli airstrikes on the crossing that caused it to close. So I'm asking about that.

REGEV: There have been Israeli airstrikes in the crossing in the vicinity on the Gaza side, not on the Egyptian side. And that's because there have been Hamas targets there. There's Hamas infrastructure there. But once again, if the crossing is open or closed, that's an Egyptian decision.

FADEL: What is the strategy at this point to get the hostages out? I mean, could these airstrikes inadvertently hurt the captives there? I mean, Hamas is now claiming 13 have been killed in the strikes.

REGEV: So we say the following. Number one, the taking of hostages is against all the rules of international law. It's unacceptable. And there should be a consistent demand from the entire international community. The hostages have to be released unequivocally and immediately. And the other thing that we'd say to Hamas is that we are watching, we are following. And anyone involved in harming a hostage, anyone - we will, in the end, bring justice to them. In other words, if it takes one year or five years or 25 years, we will punish people who are involved in any harm done to hostages.

FADEL: That's Mark Regev, senior adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Thank you for your time.

REGEV: Thank you for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF FABIANO DO NASCIMENTO'S "NOITE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.