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Israel Expands Hamas Targets In Gaza Strip

: The bombing was intended to stop Palestinian rocket fire into Israel, and despite hundreds of bombing runs, those rockets are still arriving. NPR's Mike Shuster has more.

MIKE SHUSTER: First, Israel hit military targets - buildings, tunnels and bases used by the security forces of Hamas, the Islamic resistance movement that governs Gaza. In the past few days, the targets have expanded to include government operations not directly associated with security or the military, such as the education ministry and the legislative assembly. Yesterday, for the first time in more than four years, Israel also targeted one of Hamas's leaders, Nizar Rayan. A one-ton bomb, dropped on the building where he lived, killed him along with two of his four wives and several children. The death toll in Gaza has passed 400; four Israelis have been killed by Palestinian rockets. There are no signs yet that either side is eager to stop the conflict. Asked yesterday how long it will go on, Israel's President Shimon Peres said the decision rests with Hamas.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE, JANUARY 1, 2009)

: It depends upon them. This - today, after all the death and all the blood, they fired 70 rockets today. What for? If they really care about their people, stop it.

SHUSTER: Many Israelis had hoped that an operation like this could end Hamas's control in Gaza. That seemed to be the message conveyed by Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, who met yesterday with French President Nicolas Sarkozy in Paris.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE, JANUARY 1, 2009)

SHUSTER: The idea of this operation is in order to change reality and to give the Israelis the possibility to live in quiet and to have peaceful life. This is the idea.

SHUSTER: Some Israeli leaders have expressed the view that the Palestinian population of Gaza will blame Hamas rather than Israel for the violence and bloodshed, but so far, there's no evidence of that. There are just more rockets being fired from Gaza, 400 over the last week. Some newspaper columnists in Israel have begun to question whether a bombing campaign of this sort can really end the rocket attacks. They got support from an unlikely source yesterday, the spokeswoman of the Israeli Defense Force, Avital Leibovich, who suggested that neither the continuation of the air campaign, nor the possibility of a ground invasion of Gaza, would end the rocket attacks completely.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE, JANUARY 1, 2009)

SHUSTER: I can't guarantee 100 percent ending the rocket fire in any scenario. That's why the goal of this operation is actually to cripple the capabilities of launching, the launching capabilities of Hamas, rather than diminishing them altogether.

SHUSTER: There is growing pressure in Israel to send the Army back into Gaza. In 2005, Israel removed its troops and settlers from Gaza after a 38-year occupation. Now, thousands of soldiers, along with tanks and artillery, are deployed along Gaza's border with Israel, poised to return, the state of affairs that Israel's President Shimon Peres seemed to find regrettable.

: I don't think ground defense or any other measure is a purpose in its own right. We would like to stop it as soon as we can, with minimum fire as we may. Israel left the Gaza Strip in order not to return there. It's not our wish, it's not our aim, and I hope it won't be necessary.

SHUSTER: One more factor in all this has not gotten a lot of notice, but is surely on the minds of Israel's leaders. That's the change in leadership in Washington that is rapidly approaching. Yesterday, former Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, from the right-wing Likud Party, suggested that Israel will have to complete this operation before Barack Obama is sworn in as the new American president.

F: We will have a new president in the United States in January 20th. So, we don't have so much time, and I think that the window of opportunity now is open, but it won't be open forever.

SHUSTER: As the days tick by, that factor, more than anything, may determine how long the Israeli attack on Gaza will last and whether Israel will send in the ground troops. Mike Shuster, NPR News, 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.

Mike Shuster
Mike Shuster is an award-winning diplomatic correspondent and roving foreign correspondent for NPR News. He is based at NPR West, in Culver City, CA. When not traveling outside the U.S., Shuster covers issues of nuclear non-proliferation and weapons of mass destruction, terrorism, and the Pacific Rim.
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