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Israel Rejects Two-Day Truce In Gaza

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's Morning Edition from NPR News. Good morning, I'm Steve Inskeep. Israel has turned down a call for a two-day truce in Gaza. It was a proposal to let more medical, food, and relief supplies get in. And the Israeli air bombardment of the territory continued today.

So, by the way, did Hamas rocket fire into Israel. In fact, those rockets reached Be'er Sheva, an Israeli city 30 miles from Gaza. That's the deepest Palestinian rocket penetration yet. In a moment, we'll ask Israel's Ambassador to the United States about all this. We begin with NPR's Eric Westervelt, who's covering the story and speaks with us today from Jerusalem. Eric, welcome to the program.

ERICK WESTERVELT: Morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: Because we're talking about getting food and supplies into Gaza, or that was the proposal anyway, what amounts of food and medical supplies are available now?

WESTERVELT: Well, the UN, Steve, says conditions are worsening. Grain warehouses for the UN are empty. They use that grain to deliver direct aid to hundreds of thousands of needy Gazans. That has now stopped. Gaza's hospitals vitally need to - need vital supplies. They don't always have reliable power, so conditions are getting worse.

That's why France put forward this proposal, Steve, for a two-day humanitarian truce. And an Israeli official says senior leaders discussed the idea last night and rejected it. One official told me quote, "Giving Hamas a break now to regroup and rearm is a big mistake. It's important to keep the pressure on the group," he said, "that's the whole point of this operation."

INSKEEP: What did Hamas think of this ceasefire plan? They're shooting, too.

WESTERVELT: That's right. They've rejected talk of a truce that does not meet specific demands, including Israel reopening all the border crossings to allow goods to flow into the territory, including a reopening, Steve, of the southern crossing into Egypt.

But getting a reaction from Hamas to this specific 48-hour truce idea has been extremely hard. Even lower-level Hamas officials and spokespeople are, literally, gone underground, and they're almost impossible to reach.

INSKEEP: We're talking with NPR's Eric Westervelt in Jerusalem. And, Eric, of course, we have been getting vivid accounts of damage and civilians killed in Gaza, but as we mentioned, there's also rocket fire going the other way into Israel. And what's happening in this place more than 30 miles from Gaza where that rocket landed today?

WESTERVELT: Well, there's really bad weather across much of Israel, and that's helping militants who can use this cloud cover and rain to conceal movements and launch more rockets, and they have.

Today Be'er Sheva, which is some 30 miles from Gaza, a town of more than 200,000 people, came under sustained rocket fire. At least a half a dozen of these longer-range, 122-millimeter Katusha rockets struck the city, including a hotel and an empty school.

Police tell us there was some serious damage, Steve, but no serious injuries. Ashdod and Ashkelon, north of Gaza, and several other town and villages also came under rocket attack, but police tell us, in those attacks as well, there were no serious injuries.

INSKEEP: Eric, very briefly, you are, of course, reporting from Jerusalem, and that's by necessity because journalists have, by and large, not been allowed into Gaza. Might that change soon?

WESTERVELT: That's right. Israel has barred journalists from entering the territory. The Foreign Press Association has filed a "Freedom of the Press" lawsuit. And today, the Israeli Supreme Court ruled that Israel has to allow at least a limited number of foreign reporters into Gaza every time they open the border crossing for any humanitarian relief. So the court gave the government until tomorrow morning, Steve, to respond and then implement that ruling immediately.

OK. Eric, thanks very much.

WESTERVELT: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Eric Westervelt, getting us the latest from Jerusalem. 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.

Eric Westervelt is a San Francisco-based correspondent for NPR's National Desk. He has reported on major events for the network from wars and revolutions in the Middle East and North Africa to historic wildfires and terrorist attacks in the U.S.
Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.