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Regional Interests

Israeli Airstrikes Kill Gazans After Militants Fire Missiles Into Israel

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Conflict in Israel has escalated from civil unrest to something that looks like war. Israeli warplanes struck Gaza yesterday, killing Palestinians. Israel says it conducted the strikes because militant groups in the Gaza Strip fired rockets into Israel. And the attacks back and forth have continued today. Israel now says two Israelis were killed when a rocket hit their building.

NPR's Daniel Estrin is covering this story from Jerusalem. Hi, Daniel.

DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: Hi, Steve.

INSKEEP: I just want to note, even though Palestinians in Gaza fire thousands and thousands of rockets into Israel, it seems very rare that anyone is killed by them.

ESTRIN: It is rare. In this particular round, at least two Israeli civilians have been killed. Rockets hit their buildings in the Israeli city of Ashkelon, not too far away from Gaza. One rocket hit a home. Another was - hit a taller building. At least one Israeli was seriously wounded, others lightly wounded. And all day, there have been air raid sirens in the area constantly, Palestinian militants firing hundreds of rockets.

INSKEEP: Apparently enough to get through the Israeli missile defenses, which we've seen pictures of in the last 24 hours. Are Israelis also striking into Gaza today?

ESTRIN: Yes. The Israeli army has targeted Palestinian militants, they're saying, including some senior commanders of Hamas, the Islamist group that rules in Gaza, as well as the Islamic Jihad group. And officials in Gaza say that several dozen Palestinians have been killed, including children. I have a journalist colleague in Gaza who said all night he was up hearing the sound of militants firing rockets into Israel. He said it sounds like a train suddenly whooshing past you. And sometimes, he says, you feel the shake of an Israeli strike. And this fighting, Steve, really has just begun. The prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, says Israel is going to be expanding the offensive.

INSKEEP: We're talking with NPR's Daniel Estrin in Jerusalem, which is where this latest round of violence in recent weeks seems to have begun. They were protests against Israeli actions in East Jerusalem, then confrontations between police and protesters and worshippers. And Daniel, I gather that earlier today, you were at a Palestinian hospital. What did you see?

ESTRIN: That's right. I went to the main Palestinian hospital, Makassed Hospital. I wanted to meet those who were wounded yesterday and in the days before because, as you said, the violence that we've been seeing in Jerusalem over the last few days is what sparked this wider round of fighting between Gaza and Israel. And all of these tensions were around the Al-Aqsa Mosque complex. It's sacred to Muslims, also revered by Jews as the Temple Mount. And when I went to the hospital, the director said he doesn't remember seeing this many serious injuries in such a short span of time. They treated about 350 injuries. And we're talking about police rubber-coated bullets firing at Palestinians, some throwing rocks. Let's listen to surgeon Firas Abu Akar (ph).

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

FIRAS ABU AKAR: More than 90% of the injuries are focused on the chest and face, which is strange. I can show you my patients. All of them have the bullet at the same place, left chest in the same exact place.

ESTRIN: And so we're talking about eight young men who lost an eye in these clashes. It's just remarkable to see the effects of many young men who said that they were at the Al-Aqsa Mosque to defend it.

INSKEEP: Our colleague Daniel Estrin with an update today as conflict between Israelis and Palestinians includes Israeli airstrikes, Palestinian rockets, Palestinians killed, now we know Israelis killed and many people hospitalized. Daniel, thanks very much.

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