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Over 100 Dead As Israel-Hamas Fighting Continues


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.


I'm Robert Siegel.

And we begin this hour with the violent back-and-forth now playing out in Israel and the Gaza Strip. Israeli war planes continued to strike targets across Gaza today while Hamas militants fired more rockets at Israeli towns and cities. In Israel, three civilians have died. In Gaza, the death toll has passed 100.

CORNISH: Egypt now leads diplomatic efforts to forge a ceasefire and both sides have sent representatives to Cairo. If those efforts fail, Israeli political and military commanders are preparing for a possible ground defensive. Reporter Sheera Frenkel has spent most of the past six days along the border between Israel and Gaza. She joins us now. And Sheera, describe what you've seen so far on the border.

SHEERA FRENKEL, BYLINE: You know, there's been a real shift in the last 24 hours. Last night we were seeing tanks lined up across the border. We saw Israeli soldiers who had crossed over into the no-man's land between the two areas and infantry soldiers were telling me that they were on the highest level of preparedness. I'm going to have you listen to one of the soldiers I spoke to last night who said that he thinks that Israel really needs to launch a ground invasion into Gaza.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: The last time we started acting, but it's my opinion only that we stopped before we got something. If we want to achieve the quiet inside Israel and if they'll stop now, we won't achieve anything.

FRENKEL: That was last night. But today, the mood is really different. We've seen tanks pulling back, soldiers seem a lot more relaxed. Along the border, they're sitting at coffee shops and they're playing with their iPhones and it seems as though they've been ordered to stand down. One of the soldiers I spoke to earlier today said that there was definitely a level of preparedness that was lower than last night and that his commander, who last night had said to him that he would be in Gaza in the next 24 hours, today told him he might be going home.

CORNISH: So is it clear that officially the Israeli army is standing down?

FRENKEL: Well, officially, the IDF, the Israeli army, is saying that they're still prepared to launch a ground invasion into Gaza, that they're still keeping their level of preparedness quite high. That's officially. But off the record in a background briefing I had today with a senior Israeli defense official, he said that the ground operation is not popular on the political level or on the military level. He said that once Israel decides to launch a ground operation into Gaza, they're looking on heavy casualties both on their side and in Gaza. And people here just don't seem to think that that's a good option at the moment.

CORNISH: Sheera, given what you've told us then, how has the Israeli public reacted to this latest conflict?

FRENKEL: Preliminary polls show that Netanyahu's popularity is higher than ever. Part of that, say political analysts here, is because the death toll on the Israeli side has been quite low for an operation of this size. Despite hundreds and hundreds of rockets falling on Israel, there's been a death toll of only three people. That's largely because of the Iron Dome system that's intercepted the majority of those rockets.

But the low death toll coupled with what's perceived in Israel as a successful operation in Gaza has meant that Netanyahu, during this election season, is seeing his popularity soar. Those elections are going to be held at the end of January, and political analysts are saying that Netanyahu could make a sweeping victory. That's going to depend, though, on what happens in the next couple of days.

There's a poll that was published today in the Haaretz newspaper that said that 84 percent of Israelis supported what the IDF has done so far in Gaza, but only 30 percent really want to see Israel go further and conduct a ground invasion.

CORNISH: Sheera, thank you for speaking with us.

FRENKEL: Thank you.

CORNISH: Reporter Sheera Frenkel. She joined us from Tel Aviv. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.