Israel and Hamas seem to be moving toward all-out war

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Marco Werman: I’m Marco Werman and you’re listening to The World, a coproduction of the BBC World Service PRI and WGBH Boston. It’s looking a lot like war right now across Israel and the Gaza Strip. Air raid sirens sounded in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv today, a sign of rocket attacks on Israel’s two main cities. Palestinian militants have fired dozens of rockets into Israel and the Israeli military has launched a major bombing campaign in Gaza. Palestinian officials say at least 15 people have been killed there in airstrikes. Earlier I spoke with our BBC colleague Yolande Knell, who’s reporting from Gaza City. Yolande Knell: Well I arrived in the Gaza Strip though the Erez Crossing from Israel early this morning and Israeli airstrikes were taking place as we arrived and they’ve been coming thick and fast ever since. You get these huge, loud thuds that make the ground shake and these big plumes of smoke go up. The first ones we saw around Beit Lahia in the north of the Gaza Strip, but then here in Gaza City there was an explosion in the middle of the day, very graphic pictures of what happened on Palestinian TV. There were three Palestinian militants who were killed, all leaders of the al-Qassam Brigade, the Hamas militant wing, and though we went earlier to their funeral, huge crowds turned out to watch them getting buried, the most serious instant of the day has been in Khan Yunis in southern Gaza. This is where a house was hit by an Israeli airstrike. We’re told that seven people were there including three children. Now apparently there was notification from the Israeli military that they were going to attack this house, but the response, so we understand, of the family and of local people was to try to make their way to the roof to try to protect the house from being attacked, but instead there was an airstrike, seven people killed there including the three children. Werman: You mention that notification. It’s kind of crazy how this kind of military engagement works on the Israeli side. They are supposed to make a phone call to the house that they’re about to strike? What do they tell the Palestinian residents inside? Knell: They basically tell them to get out. It’s called the knock-on-roof policy. It doesn’t always happen. Sometimes leafleting is used as well, but this is something that has been seen, although obviously it’s not always effective in having the results they want. There has also been a lot of people wounded here in the Gaza Strip through the day as a result of the airstrikes, not because they’ve been targeted directly, but when we were at the Shifa Hospital in Gaza City earlier speaking to the doctors, they said they’re seeing more people coming in now with shrapnel injuries, and there they’re very worried about what to do because they’re running out of medical supplies, and they say if this crisis continues, then very quickly petrol will run out for the generators and they won’t have the medicines that they need because of course there are already tight border restrictions imposed on Gaza by Israel and by Egypt and that can mean that resources there run low. Werman: Yolande, just briefly, what have you been hearing from Palestinians’ Hamas leaders? Does it seem like they want things to escalate with Israel? Knell: Well there were some very defiant statements coming out from the al-Qassam Brigades, the militant wing of Hamas; also from the al-Quds Brigades of the Islamic Jihad, the other main militant faction here. They said that red lines are being crossed with the targeting of civilian homes, but at the same time we also had a member of the al-Qassam Brigades, a spokesperson coming out, laying down the conditions for a ceasefire. These are not conditions I think that Israel will adhere to. They’re asking for an end to what they call the aggression in the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip; also in Jerusalem. They want to see many of the prisoners who have recently been sent back to Israeli jails, those who were released under the terms of the Gilad Shalit deal – remember he was the captured Israeli soldier who was held here in Gaza for five years – they want those prisoners to be rereleased, and they’re also asking Israel to make other concessions that at the moment I think it’s unlikely to make, but at least perhaps some suggestion this evening that there is a request for some kind of calm on the Palestinian side as the casualties mount up. Werman: My colleague Yolande Knell at the BBC in Gaza City.