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Israel Bombards Gaza, At Least 140 Dead

SCOTT SIMON, host:

This is Weekend Edition from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. There's fighting in the Gaza Strip today. Israeli fighter jets pounded almost every major security compound across Gaza in reprisal for rocket attacks on southern Israel. A Gaza medical official says at least 160 have been killed. That number is expected to rise. Rockets have been fired on southern Israel. Hamas took control of Gaza in 2007, and Israel accuses them of doing nothing to halt the rocket assaults. The U.N. is calling for an immediate halt to the violence. Groups in Gaza are vowing revenge. NPR's Eric Westervelt joins us now from Jerusalem. Eric, thanks for being with us.

ERIC WESTERVELT: Good morning, Scott.

SIMON: And what do you know about what happened?

WESTERVELT: Well, witnesses say around noon, local time, a series of massive air strikes shook all of Gaza City, and what followed were scenes of desperation and chaos. Video from the scene, Scott, showed Hamas policemen and frantic Gaza medical workers trying to rescue the wounded and retrieve the dead and the dying. Amid plumes of smoke and rubble and real fear of additional air strikes, because some strikes are continuing as we speak in Gaza City. There weren't enough ambulances, Scott, so people are piling bodies into taxis and pickup trucks.

A Gaza official told me every major police compound in Gaza City and several others across the territory were attacked. Among the dead is the police chief for all of Gaza. His name is Major General Tawfiq Jabber.

SIMON: Help us understand the geography where this is going on, Eric, because Israel talks about directing their attacks just on the police and security compounds. Where are these places located?

WESTERVELT: Well, it does appear the direct hits were all on Hamas police and security compound, that's true. But Gaza City, one has to understand, is one of the most densely populated places in the Middle East, building upon building. In some buildings, you'll have dozens of families with huge numbers of people. You know, so, these compounds are also near civilian areas, including outdoor and indoor shopping areas, residential buildings, and schools. The first air strikes hit when children were still in school for the day.

It's not clear how many civilians are among the dead, but Dr. Mowayea Hasaneen, the head of Gaza's - Gaza medical director, says there are many civilians, including several children.

SIMON: Israel, of course, maintains that rocket attacks were being launched from Gaza on southern Israel and that they had warned the leadership of Hamas these attacks have to be stopped. And now, an Israeli military spokesman indicates the leadership of Hamas may be targets. What effect would that have?

WESTERVELT: Already, we're hearing vows from Islamic Jihad and Hamas to avenge this attack. There's already been some rocket fire today. It's killed one Israeli and wounded several others in the Negev border town of Netivot. The Israeli government has warned residents living throughout southern Israel in rocket range of Gaza to remain indoors and in protected areas. And Hamas and Islamic Jihad also vowed to respond with, quote, "all possible means," which is a very thinly veiled threat to unleash suicide attacks.

SIMON: NPR's Eric Westervelt in Jerusalem. Thanks very much.

WESTERVELT: You're welcome. 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.
Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.
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