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The latest on Israel's response to the surprise attack by Hamas over the weekend


This is only the beginning, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said today. He added, we are going to change the Middle East. He was visiting the southern border of Israel with Gaza, the scene of the unprecedented attack over the weekend by the Palestinian militant group Hamas. He warned that his country's military offensive will intensify. Earlier, Israel's defense minister ordered a complete siege of Gaza, saying no water, no electricity, no food will be allowed in. Three hundred thousand military reservists have been called up. There is speculation that a ground invasion of Gaza is imminent. NPR's Aya Batrawy is in the outskirts of Tel Aviv tonight. Hey there.


KELLY: Hi. So we're now in Day 3 of this conflict. You're in Israel. What does it look like? What does it feel like there tonight?

BATRAWY: So yeah. As you said, there's a lot of reservists being called over to the border with Gaza. And there are still Israeli forces going house to house there, looking for Palestinian militants. They say they took back control of a police station in one southern town that had been taken over by militants. I can see attack helicopters since I arrived yesterday in the sky heading towards the south. The country is on edge. Schools are closed. Shops are shuttered in Tel Aviv. There was a rocket that hit Jerusalem, wounding two people there. But there's also been violence and killings of Palestinians in the West Bank by settlers and Israeli forces. And some of those killed were children.

And the language from defense officials in Israel has been clear. We heard these Israeli defense minister today when he announced that full siege on Gaza, saying that Israel is fighting, quote, "human animals that will be dealt with accordingly." And the question now is when Israel will launch a ground invasion. The last time it did was in 2014 during that war, and it was for nearly three weeks. And there were big casualties among Palestinian civilians but also Israeli forces. But here's the aim of this mission. Here's what Israeli Defense Forces spokesman Jonathan Conricus said.


JONATHAN CONRICUS: Our job is to make sure that at the end of this war, Hamas will no longer have any military capabilities to threaten Israeli civilians with. And in addition to that, we are also to make sure that Hamas will not be able to govern the Gaza Strip.

KELLY: Aya, I want to stay with the Gaza Strip. What do we know of of the situation there today?

BATRAWY: Well, as you heard Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, saying today, we're just seeing the beginning. And what that beginning looks like is hundreds already killed in the past two days, mosques and high-rise towers bombed by F-16 fighter jets. And around a fifth of those killed so far have been children. And Gazans are fleeing their homes. They're taking shelter in schools and U.N.-run facilities. A woman named Ruba Akkila, who I've known for years and been in touch with daily since the violence erupted, messaged me that the port in Gaza was bombed - she lives near there - and that glass had shattered in her home. I messaged her two minutes after she had sent me that, and those messages haven't gone through.

Another woman I spoke with, Eman Abou Saeid, told me she just found out today her cousin was killed in an airstrike. He leaves behind five kids and a wife. She tells me he was a driver and a civilian. When I asked her how she's getting by on no electricity or water, particularly her building because the building next to them was bombed and it took out those supplies, she said, I think, what many moms can relate to.

EMAN ABOU SAEID: It's very, very hard. Even all the time, I'm feeling so stressed I can't manage to cook. So we try to do some junk food, anything that's in the fridge because you know that no electricity now, no water.

BATRAWY: And her kids are 11 and 12 years old. And she tells me they've already lived through four wars or conflicts with Israel. And they've never left the Gaza Strip because they can't. The area is blockaded. It's been under a blockade for 16 years by Egypt and Israel. And I asked her what she thought about the attack on Israel, the civilians that were killed, the civilians that were taken hostage. We're talking about a grandmother, a Holocaust survivor, children. But here's what she said about that.

SAEID: Civilians shouldn't be attacked. But what about the civilians of the Gazans? Is it only the right for Israel, the occupation, to defend themselves? What about the Gazans? What about them? What about them? Who will defend them?

KELLY: Aya, I want to ask the what's next question. And I know that's impossible to say, but there is, as we mentioned, growing speculation that a ground invasion of Gaza may be coming and soon. How likely is that? What are the risks?

BATRAWY: I mean, it's inevitable, many would say, that there's going to be a ground invasion. And I think the dilemma Israel faces is not just the risks that that poses to its own forces going in there but to the hostages. Israel still hasn't said how many were taken, but we've seen reports in Israeli media of at least a hundred. That includes soldiers and civilians, again, children, families, elderly. Hamas said an Israeli airstrike actually overnight killed four hostages. It released the image of one soldier before he died who was held there in that - and killed in that attack. And here's another thing Hamas warned. Their military wing, Kata'ib Izz ad-Din al-Qassam, said for every attack without a warning on a home in Gaza that kills children and women there, they will kill a civilian hostage. So I think the larger risk here is that this isn't only between Israel and Gaza but that it drags in others. Gunmen from a Palestinian armed group in Lebanon tried to cross into Israel today, leading to clashes there. So there's a real risk that this becomes regional.

KELLY: NPR's Aya Batrawy on the outskirts of Tel Aviv tonight. Thank you.

BATRAWY: Thanks.

(SOUNDBITE OF SAMANTHA BARRON SONG, "SIN MI") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Aya Batrawy
Aya Batrawy is an NPR International Correspondent. She leads NPR's Gulf bureau in Dubai.