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Israeli-Palestinian Violence Continues As U.S. Envoy Arrives

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

This week's conflict in Gaza continues as the violence spreads around the West Bank and Israel. Israel has added artillery to their air offensive. Government officials there say they're attacking tunnels used by militants, who have fired around 2,000 rockets that have left eight people in Israel dead. In Gaza, the Israeli offensive toppled apartment blocks, displacing many and killing more than 120 people. Even as efforts to mediate an end seem to be underway, the violence is spreading. NPR's Daniel Estrin joins us now from Jerusalem. And, Daniel, first give us the update on where the fighting is most intense, the Gaza Strip.

DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: Well, Israeli strikes continued there pretty much all day. And this is mostly an air war with warplanes and attack helicopters flying over Gaza. And Israel says it carried out its most intense offensive around midnight - a massive bombing destroying what Israel said was part of an underground tunnel network that Hamas militants use. And Israel says it thinks it killed many militants inside. But this was a civilian area, too, and many civilians fled. There were reports of many casualties, unclear how many of them civilians.

My colleague in Gaza, photojournalist Anas Baba, told me that he saw bulldozers removing rubble from bombed streets to open streets for ambulances. And Gaza has only four or five hours of electricity a day now. He, my colleague, was at a gas station, and he saw a guy filling up jugs of gasoline to operate a generator. He said he needed to generate oxygen so that his dad could have oxygen because his dad has COVID and his dad's oxygen machine needed electricity.

CORNISH: Has the rocket fire from militants heading into Israel - has it actually made it to Israel? Are people there scrambling for shelter in the same way?

ESTRIN: Yes. This is the fifth day of fighting, and Hamas has fired more than 2,000 rockets toward Israel. A few hundred of those rockets fell short in Gaza and actually killed some Palestinians in Gaza. That's according to the Israeli army. But of those rockets that militants fired that crossed the border into Israel, Israeli anti-missile systems have intercepted above 90% of them. That's according to the Israeli military.

They're intercepted midair, and so that means that, yes, there are a lot of air raid sirens, a lot of frayed nerves, a lot of Israelis running to sheltered rooms in their homes or bomb shelters. If the less fortunate don't have shelters, they run for cover anyway. But because so many rockets are intercepted midair, we are not seeing the same large numbers of injuries or deaths that we're seeing in Gaza.

CORNISH: So then help us understand the reports about Israel using deadly force against Palestinians in the West Bank within this week of violence.

ESTRIN: Yes. Protests erupted in the West Bank - in the Israeli-occupied West Bank as well, clashes with Israeli troops. Palestinian officials say that at least 11 Palestinians throughout the West Bank were killed from army fire. And then if that's not enough, we're hearing reports of a couple of rockets launched from Syria that reached Israel. It's unclear what the background of that is.

CORNISH: A U.S. envoy arrived there today. What kind of steps can he take in terms of his mandate to help deescalate this?

ESTRIN: Right. Hady Amr is a senior State Department envoy. He arrived. He says he's here to seek calm but also to defend Israel's right to defend itself against rocket fire. The Biden administration's approach appears to be publicly defending Israel's right to defend itself so that privately, they can make a difference and sit with Israel and press Israel on ways to save lives. I spoke with former U.S. aid director Dave Harden. He was the West Bank and Gaza administrator for USAID in 2014, when Israel and Hamas fought a war. And he explained to me how the U.S. and he was involved then.

DAVE HARDEN: We were deeply, deeply involved in trying to deconflict the war, to protect civilians, to restore calm and to blunt the humanitarian crisis.

ESTRIN: So what he's saying is that he, as a U.S. official, had a seat at the table with Israel to try to save lives.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Daniel Estrin in Jerusalem. Thank you.

ESTRIN: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF SYMMETRY'S "OVER THE EDGE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.