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In Gaza, No Sign Of Cease-Fire

MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

From NPR News, this is All Things Considered. I'm Melissa Block.

MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

And I'm Michele Norris. On the 17th day of the war in Gaza there is still no sign of a cease-fire. Israeli troops and Hamas militants fought sporadic and at times, fierce gun battles. But the Israeli military appears, for the most part, to be holding back from an all-out ground assault into Gaza City. The UN says there are now tens of thousands of civilians in Gaza struggling to find shelter from the fighting. NPR's Eric Westervelt sent us this report.

ERIC WESTERVELT: Twenty-six-year-old Numir Sultan(ph) left his home on the eastern edge of Gaza City with 18 family members after he was wounded by shrapnel that he says was from an Israeli air strike. Al-Shifa Hospital staff now want him to leave. They need his bed for more urgent cases, but Sultan is now homeless and like tens of thousands of Gazans is scared and unsure what to do and where to go.

Mr. NMIR SULTAN (Gazan Resident): (Through Translator) May God help them, there are so many injured people here. My leg is hurt and they gave me first aid but now the hospital released me to make space for others. Where can I go? I can't go out there from here. My whole neighborhood is destroyed and there is bombardment all the time and anyone who walks there will be targeted. I'll wait for God's mercy. Where can I go?

WESTERVELT: Sultan says he's afraid to go to a UN shelter because two have been hit by Israeli fire. That sense among Gaza civilians, if there is no place to run to gets worse every day as the war grinds on. The UN today said there are now more than 30,000 civilians in U.N. shelters with tens of thousands more waiting to get in and thousands of others who fled to homes of relatives or friends. Unlike most conflicts, civilians in Gaza are not being allowed to cross borders to escape the fighting. Fred Abraham is a Senior Emergencies Researcher with Human Rights Watch.

Mr. FRED ABRAHAM, (Senior Emergencies Researcher with Human Rights Watch): Israel with the complicity of Egypt has not been letting civilians flee from the conflict zone so essentially there is no safe place to go. Israel's been dropping these leaflets warning civilians to flee their homes. Where are they supposed to go? I spoke today with a family that is trapped up in northern Gaza - it's about 30 people with food for three days and water for three days. They cannot leave the area.

WESTERVELT: Palestinian doctors say the Gaza death toll is now above 900. Three Israeli civilians and 10 soldiers have been killed. While ground fighting in Gaza and Hamas rocket fire into Israel continued today, it appears the Israeli army for now is holding off pressing its assault deeper into Gaza City - what Israel has called "Phase Three" of the attack.

Mr. ZE'EV LIVNA, (Retired Major General, Israeli Defense Forces): We can capture and kill every Hamas soldier but I don't think that we should do it. I think it's a waste of life among both sides.

WESTERVELT: That's Israeli retired Major General Ze'ev Livna, a former Israel ground forces commander and senior military adviser to two prime ministers. General Livna does not think it would be worth the diplomatic and political damage or the destruction and continued loss of life to press deeper into densely populated Gaza.

Mr. ZE'EV LIVNA: I believe that we don't want to control the Palestinian population in Gaza which is possible, but it means that there is a big risk that many people who are not involved are going to be held from among the Gazan population and I am not sure that it is in our interest to do it. We want only to make sure that the Israeli population along the border is not terrorized again like it was before.

WESTERVELT: But the question for Israel now is whether it can halt the rocket fire without pushing deeper or reoccupying Gaza. Israeli media is reporting splits within the Israeli leadership over what to do now militarily and how to achieve a durable cease-fire that also prevents Hamas from rearming. Hamas leaders in Gaza are underground hiding from Israeli air strikes. Hamas officials in exile, however, say they will not stop launching rockets until Israeli forces withdraw and all borders are reopened. Eric Westervelt NPR News.

NORRIS: And we get help with that story from NPR News assistant Ahmad Abu Hamda in Gaza city. Israel continues to bar foreign journalists from entering Gaza. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Eric Westervelt is a San Francisco-based correspondent for NPR's National Desk. He has reported on major events for the network from wars and revolutions in the Middle East and North Africa to historic wildfires and terrorist attacks in the U.S.