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An update on the Israel-Hamas war from the ground in Tel Aviv


The Israeli military announced it has secured its border with Gaza and is moving into an offensive that it says will change the reality within Gaza. In Israel, at least 1,000 people were killed in an unprecedented breach by Hamas militants. Those militants also abducted up to 150 people in Israel. In retaliation, Israeli bombardments have killed more than 800 people inside Gaza, and a siege by Israel has begun. The Gaza Strip is cut off from fuel, food, water and electricity. The group Human Rights Watch is calling both Israel's siege of Gaza and Hamas' attack on Israeli citizens a war crime.

NPR Morning Edition co-host Leila Fadel is in Jerusalem. And Leila, what are you seeing?

LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: Well, I'll start with what I'm not seeing, Sacha, and that's people out. When we arrived and drove through Tel Aviv, the typically bustling nightlife - it was gone. Here in Jerusalem, tourists are leaving. One hotel we visited plans to close because there aren't enough guests booking at rooms in the old city to keep the business running for right now. And in the distance, you hear the sound of rockets being intercepted by Israel's defense system.

And when I talk to people, I hear an Israeli population that is expressing shock and anger that it's country's institutions didn't see that this attack was coming, but they're also uniting around a war effort. So we also hear many say that this conversation about an intelligence failure - well, that's for later. That has to come after the war. And you hear this from everyone - from ordinary citizens to the former head of military intelligence Tamir Hayman, who I spoke to this morning.

TAMIR HAYMAN: Digging into that wound is harmful for focusing on our military victory that we need to achieve. I imagine there will be a time that we can ask these questions, and we will give elaborate answer.

PFEIFFER: Leila, is there an assumption that things are going to get worse?

FADEL: Yes. Positions are hardened. It appears a ground invasion by Israeli forces is about to begin in Gaza. And when I spoke to Hayman, he said the goal should be to eliminate the Hamas military wing with, quote, "brute force." The Hamas military wing just launched a barrage of rockets onto the southern town of Ashkelon, saying, if you forcibly displace our people, we forcibly displace yours. And in the midst of all this are people who want to live, be safe and be free. That's what is driving these hardened feelings.

PFEIFFER: Would you give us a sense of what you're finding among both Israelis and Palestinians - if you've had any contact with them - and could you start with Israelis?

FADEL: Yeah, I mean, among Israelis, grief, anger and, as I said, shock, even four days in now to this. Today I met with a man, Ido Dan. Five members of his family are missing after the attacks in Israeli communities on Saturday. He doesn't know where they are, but he thinks they've been abducted into Gaza. And this includes three children 11 to 16 years old - his cousins. Hamas' military has threatened to execute hostages if Palestinian homes are targeted without warning. So Dan is trying to shield the kids - his children - from the news, but one found the picture of his cousins in a newspaper.

IDO DAN: He's very smart. He said, are they kidnapped? Are they going to die? So I told him they've been taken. They're safe - even though I have no data or any confirmation that they are safe.

FADEL: These stories are stories we're hearing from so many people right now. In Tel Aviv, people are also being asked to provide DNA to help identify the bodies. Meanwhile, more bodies are still being uncovered. There are videos coming out of Kfar Aza today, a town the Israeli military took back in the south, where the military took some foreign journalists, and Israeli soldiers were retrieving civilians killed inside their homes. A few dead Hamas militants lay on the ground. And so more devastating loss of civilian life in a village where they apparently went door to door.

PFEIFFER: And what about Palestinians in Gaza?

FADEL: Civilians in Gaza are also trying to protect their children in the midst of these bombardments. This is a place that's harder to cover. There are very few journalists inside. They don't have bomb shelters. The people who live there - they're fleeing to U.N. schools and hospitals for shelter. Half their population is under 19 years old, and that means they've lived as children through four other Gaza wars and were only 3 when the blockade by Israel and Egypt of this densely populated area began. So they've really never known freedom of movement.

Our producer, Anas Baba, met Im Mahmoud Elkolak outside Gaza's main hospital. She was with a crowd of Palestinian families looking for shelter. And she knows loss because, when Gaza was bombarded two years ago, she lost 22 members of her family.

IM MAHMOUD ELKOLAK: (Non-English language spoken).

FADEL: And there she's also talking to her child. She's saying, when the war started, her daughter asked if she'll be killed like her cousin, and her mother told her not to worry. And as you can hear, the sound of bombardment is constant in the background as she speaks there.

PFEIFFER: That's NPR's Leila Fadel. And Leila, thank you for letting us know what people in that region are going through.

FADEL: You're welcome, Sacha. 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.

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.