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Gaza Conflict Punctuated by Abduction of Journalists

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Throughout the month-long war between Israel and Hezbollah, Gaza was the forgotten conflict. Israeli forces have been attacking targets there since the end of June for some of the same reasons it went into Lebanon: to try to retrieve a soldier captured by militants and to try to stop rockets being fired into Israel.

NPR's Anne Garrels is in Gaza and joins us now. Good morning, Anne.

ANNE GARRELS reporting:

Good morning.

MONTAGNE: I gather there was another Israeli airstrike early today. Tell us about that.

GARRELS: Well, it was pretty typical. The Israeli Air Force fired a missile at a building it said was a weapons storehouse. In the case, two people were killed. An Israeli spokesman said it had warned the residents in advance, but people here said they ignored the warning. Sometimes Israel doesn't bomb and so people, in a way, are playing Russian roulette.

MONTAGNE: And has the confrontation between the Israelis and Palestinians in Gaza slackened at all during the war in Lebanon as, in a sense, the world looked away from that conflict and sort of north to the Israel-Lebanon border?

GARRELS: Well, it seemed to be letting up a bit last week but now appears to be picking up. And militants have cut down on the number of rockets they're lobbing into Israel, down from a daily toll of 20 to two. But with the cease-fire in Lebanon, people here now in Gaza are scared that they're going to be hit harder than ever. You know, 190 people have been killed here and 700 injured in the past six weeks, half of them civilians, including children. Hundreds remain displaced. There are dozens of homes have been destroyed.

And the imponderables of the Israeli political scene have now confused the political situation here even more. The more moderate Palestinian president has been trying to get the Hamas-led government to agree to a government of national unity. The idea being that if the PLO were brought into the government, the international community would lift the economic embargo. But those talks now seem to be going nowhere.

MONTAGNE: And two Fox TV new journalists were captured in Gaza on Monday by, so far, unknown gunmen. Is there news on that TV crew?

GARRELS: No. And that's particularly disturbing. No one has claimed any responsibility and there have been no demands. It's not unusual for foreigners, among them journalists, to be kidnapped by people seeking the release of relatives from jails, demanding jobs, or other personal favors. But almost all of them have been released within a few hours if not within a day, and this is not following the usual pattern.

MONTAGNE: And, Anne, during all of this, what about the living conditions of Palestinians in Gaza? They were going from bad to worse before, you know, two months ago. Have they improved at all or gotten just much worst?

GARRELS: It's getting much worse. The Israelis hit one of the main electricity generating plants here, so electricity is more restricted than ever. Government workers haven't gotten salaries in six months. It's estimated people here are living on $2 a day. They exhaust credit at one grocery store and then go to another, but they're running out of credit.

One indication of desperation is people are now selling their belongings. They're trying to sell their mobile phones but the phone stores have indicated, you know, they're inundated; they're not going to purchase them any more.

Supplies are coming in so there is some food. People don't have money to buy it. But Israel continues to block the only border where Palestinians can come and go. Thousands, including children - who were sent out because of the fighting - are stranded outside, and people here are unable to leave. And people here say this is just hardening attitudes, that if Israel thought it could squeeze Gaza into submission, they were wrong.

MONTAGNE: Anne, thanks very much.

GARRELS: Thank you.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Anne Garrels reporting from Gaza. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Renee Montagne, one of the best-known names in public radio, is a special correspondent and host for NPR News.
Anne Garrels
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