The Israeli military said it conducted overnight raids in Gaza to take back hostages
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
The Israeli military staged limited raids into Gaza overnight and continued its campaign of airstrikes. There are concerns the violence will soon escalate. Palestinians are scrambling to flee northern Gaza after Israel ordered them to leave. NPR's Peter Kenyon joins us now from Jerusalem. Peter, thanks so much for being with us.
PETER KENYON, BYLINE: Hi, Scott.
SIMON: This was not the full incursion into Gaza that has been expected, but what more can you tell us about these raids?
KENYON: Well, according to IDF spokesman Daniel Hagari, the army carried out the raids and retrieved the bodies of several Israelis who had been missing since the Hamas attack a week ago. He said families had been notified. Hagari also said the troops found items, unspecified items, that might lead to the whereabouts of more missing Israelis. Now, separately, Lieutenant Colonel Richard Hecht, the IDF international spokesperson, told reporters that Israeli forces are, quote, "seeing things no one should ever have to see." He said, quote, "this is the face of evil." And he said Israel's main targets would be the leaders of Hamas militants in Gaza. He said however long it takes, Israel will get those responsible for the slaughter of Israeli civilians.
SIMON: Gaza woke up to the news Friday that Israel has ordered Palestinians to evacuate northern Gaza and head south. Where does that stand?
KENYON: Well, yes, this was a controversial decision issued to more than a million residents of northern Gaza. The United Nations said it could lead to a calamitous situation and called on Israel to rescind the order. But we are now getting reports of Palestinians on the roads heading south. Israel called it a significant movement. There have also been reports of some evacuating Palestinians feeling the road wasn't safe and trying to turn around to go home. Israel has since announced that it will allow safe passage, it says, on two main roads heading south from the northern Gaza Strip each day between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
SIMON: The U.S. has promised to do whatever is necessary to ensure Israel can defend itself, and the Secretary of Defense, Lloyd Austin, was in Israel yesterday. What did he say?
KENYON: Well, Austin said, as a former CENTCOM commander, Hamas reminds him of ISIS. Bloodthirsty, fanatical and hateful were his words. He added that like ISIS, Hamas has nothing to offer but, quote, "zealotry, bigotry and death." Now, he also referred to President Joe Biden's comment to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that while the U.S. would also respond swiftly and decisively to any such massive terrorist assault, democracies such as ours are stronger and more secure, quote, "when we uphold the laws of war." Here's how he put it.
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LLOYD AUSTIN: Terrorists like Hamas deliberately target civilians. But democracies don't. This is a time for resolve and not revenge, for purpose and not panic and for security and not surrender.
KENYON: Now, some critics have said Israel's bombardment of Gaza has already killed too many civilians. Austin did not say that. He did say the U.S. has sent warships and other assets to the region and is prepared to deal with anyone seeking to take advantage of the situation. And on another, more positive front, the State Department says it expects the Rafah Crossing in southern Gaza across to Egypt to be open for some 5 to 600 Americans for several hours a day. Hamas, of course, would have to allow people to leave.
SIMON: What's the sentiment among Israelis there?
KENYON: Well, strong support for the Israeli military, tremendous sympathy for the families of those killed by Hamas. Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said more than once yesterday that they weren't just killed or kidnapped. He alleged that rapes were committed, and Israelis, including children and babies, were burned. But there's also increasingly sharp criticism being leveled here not just at the military and intelligence agencies for not having anticipated this assault but at Israel's political leaders, especially Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. One analysis piece ran under the headline, quote, "Netanyahu Is On Brand: No Responsibility, No Accountability, No Remorse." It charged Netanyahu with forming a temporary war cabinet as a means of, quote, "making sure there's someone else to blame for the Gaza war failures." So the political impacts of this within Israel will likely be felt for some time.
SIMON: NPR's Peter Kenyon in Jerusalem, thanks so much.
KENYON: Thanks, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.
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