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Israel launches new Gaza offensive as nationalists march in Jerusalem


Heavy fighting in central Gaza has left at least 140 Palestinians dead over the last two days. That according to a hospital director there who spoke with NPR. The new bombardments include an overnight airstrike by Israel on a U.N. facility sheltering displaced families.


Here's how an aid worker for Doctors Without Borders describes a scene in central Gaza.

KARIN HUSTER: The situation is apocalyptic. This morning on my way to the hospital, I saw two donkeys carrying the bodies of at least eight people who had died.

MARTÍNEZ: This is happening despite U.S. calls for Israel and Hamas to agree to a cease-fire originally proposed by Israel.

MARTIN: We're going to go now to NPR's Kat Lonsdorf who is in Tel Aviv. Hello, Kat.


MARTIN: So what have you been hearing about what's going on in Gaza?

LONSDORF: Yeah. So in the past few days, Israeli troops have launched a new offensive in central Gaza. Israel's military says its air force is striking Hamas and that its ground troops are operating in a limited manner. But from what we've heard from people on the ground, including our producer, Anas Baba, that area has been pummeled with Israeli airstrikes and artillery in the past two days. And just a reminder, these areas are - in central Gaza are where many people have fled in recent weeks from Rafah in the south. That aid worker we just heard, Karin Huster, who called it apocalyptic, she sent us that voice note on Wednesday before the Israeli airstrike last night on the U.N. facility.

MARTIN: Do we know any more about that strike? What can you tell us?

LONSDORF: Yeah. This morning, Anas, our producer, spoke to us from that U.N. school that had been hit. He said the school is sheltering displaced families. One he heard about had reached the school just two weeks ago, and the entire family was killed while they were sleeping. Anas described walking up the school staircase, which was covered in blood, and he saw severely injured children.

The Israeli military put out a statement this morning saying that that strike was, quote, "precise" and that a Hamas compound had been embedded in the school with people who had been involved in the October 7 attacks on Israel. The military also said that a number of steps were taken to reduce the risk of harming uninvolved civilians.

MARTIN: You know, just last week, President Biden unveiled what he called an Israeli plan for a cease-fire. What's the status of that?

LONSDORF: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has come out and said that what Biden unveiled was not, quote, "complete" and insisted Israel would carry on until it has destroyed Hamas, both as a military and governing force. Netanyahu has a delicate balancing act between pressure from the U.S. and his own coalition here in Israel, made up in part by far-right politicians who are demanding the total annihilation of Hamas. They have openly threatened to bring down his government if he doesn't stick to their demands.

And, you know, there are efforts in Doha to get talks restarted, but they just really don't seem to be going anywhere. Hamas originally responded positively to that plan that Biden put forth last week, but now they're signaling that they won't agree to it unless Israel says it will end the war completely.

MARTIN: I want to talk more about those - sort of those elements in Israeli politics. The far right has become an important player in the past few years. And yesterday, Israeli nationalists made a show of strength in a parade through Jerusalem. Talk more about that, if you would.

LONSDORF: Yeah. So this was a celebration of a national holiday here called Jerusalem Day. It's a parade that happens every year. It marks when Israel effectively annexed East Jerusalem in 1967. I was at the march yesterday and it's - tens of thousands of people showed up waving Israeli flags, singing and dancing. You know, they say it's just a celebration to show that Israel claims all of Jerusalem. But we heard marchers shouting things like death to Arabs, and for Palestinians, it's very provocative. And, you know, it should be noted that those far-right members of Netanyahu's cabinet, the ones who are against the cease-fire deal, many of them were there.

MARTIN: That is NPR's Kat Lonsdorf from Tel Aviv. Kat, thank you.

LONSDORF: Thanks, Michel. 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.

Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.