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Communications have been cut off in Gaza, making rescue efforts even more difficult

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Israel has expanded its military operation in the Gaza Strip. This includes stepping up airstrikes, and ground forces now hold territory in the northern part of the area. Little information is available from inside Gaza, where communications are almost entirely cut off. NPR's Greg Myre is in Tel Aviv. Greg, thanks for being with us.

GREG MYRE, BYLINE: Good to be here, Scott.

SIMON: What do we know about the fighting in Gaza at this moment?

MYRE: Well, we certainly seem to be at a new stage of the conflict. This really is a significant expansion and intensification of this Israeli military operation. But we should stress this does not seem to be the full-scale ground invasion that many are anticipating. These airstrikes overnight appeared to be the heaviest yet. Israel also sent ground forces into the north. They have been making brief in-and-out raids the past couple of nights. But today, the military says the troops are still there, so it's the first time this has happened. And details are sparse, but Israel said it did send in armored vehicles, tanks and armored personnel carriers as well as artillery. Israelis also say they hit 150 underground targets - these being the tunnels that Hamas has - and they killed a number of Hamas commanders, including one, they say, who was responsible for the drone and paraglider attacks in southern Israel three weeks ago.

SIMON: What does Hamas say?

MYRE: The group released a statement. They said the Israeli ground incursion was a, quote, "failure," and they claim Israel suffered heavy losses in both soldiers and equipment. Now, Hamas said the fighters were able to carry out ambushes on the Israeli ground forces and that Israel needed helicopters to evacuate the dead and wounded. However, the Israeli military says they suffered no casualties overnight.

SIMON: And Greg, we know the humanitarian conditions in Gaza are dire. What's the latest information on that?

MYRE: Yeah, Scott, we have almost no new information from inside Gaza because, as you noted, virtually all communications have been cut off. Cellphones, the internet are all down. Now, there's a pretty strong suspicion Israel is behind this, but Israel isn't commenting one way or the other. The World Health Organization says it can't contact its medical teams in Gaza. U.N. aid organizations say they've had very limited contact via satellite phone. But it's hard to get any real sense of what's going on because of this - these limits. We haven't been able to reach our NPR producer in Gaza or others that we've been in contact with. And this communications blackout does make conditions more dire. For example, if Palestinians are wounded in an airstrike, they can't call an ambulance or a hospital. So this makes rescue efforts very, very difficult.

SIMON: This is obviously a changing situation minute by minute. What are you going to be watching?

MYRE: So we're keeping close watch on Israel's very large ground force, which remains massed just outside the borders of Gaza, and there's still this widespread expectation that Israel will send in more troops into the territory. Of course, we have no idea what that timetable might look like. There are still airstrikes taking place in Gaza today. We can tell from the huge plumes of smoke going up. We should note that the northern part of Gaza, where the Israelis are operating, has these open fields, so Israeli troops can take up positions there and be relatively secure. But if they push deeper into Gaza - as many expect, they'll soon hit Gaza City, the most densely packed part of the territory - and we could see very heavy urban fighting. A number of military analysts we've spoken with say this operation could last months - much larger than any previous Israeli operation in Gaza.

SIMON: NPR's Greg Myre in Tel Aviv. Thanks so much.

MYRE: Sure thing, Scott. 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.

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.
Greg Myre is a national security correspondent with a focus on the intelligence community, a position that follows his many years as a foreign correspondent covering conflicts around the globe.
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