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Israeli military spokesman vows to 'restore security to the people of Israel'

SCOTT DETROW, HOST:

For the latest on what is happening on the ground, we now turn to NPR's Aya Batrawy in Tel Aviv. Hey, Aya.

AYA BATRAWY, BYLINE: Hi, Scott.

DETROW: It's just past midnight where you are. What do we know about the situation at this moment?

BATRAWY: Here in Israel, there's still an ongoing Israeli military operation to reclaim areas in the south where Hamas gunmen attacked yesterday, and Israeli communities near the Gaza border were struck. But so, too, was a massive music festival. And we've seen reports in Israeli media that as many as a hundred people, Israeli soldiers and civilians, could have been taken hostage - taken to Gaza, that is. And among them are some foreign nationals. And in the Tel Aviv neighborhood where I am, nearly every store and restaurant was shuttered during the day. Schools have been closed. I could see attack helicopters in the sky, added checkpoints. People are on edge, and this definitely feels like a country on a war footing. Here's what Israeli Defense Forces spokesman Daniel Hagari said earlier today.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DANIEL HAGARI: The days ahead will be long and difficult. We have paid a heavy price, but we will restore security to the people of Israel. Let me repeat. We will restore security to the people of Israel.

BATRAWY: And many Israelis seem to know someone who has been affected by this. On my way from Dubai today, catching this flight to Tel Aviv, the flight had reservists - Israeli reservists being called to duty. And one of them was a man who had just found out on the plane that one of the members of his unit had died. And when I went up to him to ask him what - you know, how he felt and what this - why he was grieving, he said to me, we're going to raze Gaza to the ground, all of its 2.3 million residents. So emotions are very high.

DETROW: And, you know, we're hearing not that different language from Israeli leaders. So what do we know at this point about the situation in the Gaza Strip?

BATRAWY: Well, people in Gaza are bracing themselves. Already around 74,000 people have left their homes in the hopes of finding safety in dozens of U.N. shelters. Most of those would be schools across the Gaza Strip. I mean, people in Gaza have been through multiple conflicts and wars, and they know intimately the toll. And there have already been near-constant bombardments since yesterday. Israel controls air, land and sea access to much of the Gaza Strip. This is a tiny strip of land that's been under a blockade for 16 years by Israel and Egypt, and there's no way for people there to leave, not even through Egypt's border, except if you have - the few that might have the right permissions and paperwork.

So people in Gaza, some of them see this, like, as a response to collective punishment. Others are terrified about the price they might have to pay for something Hamas did. I spoke - I heard from Rubakia (ph). She's a child and gender protection expert in the Gaza Strip, and she's a Palestinian resident there. She lives near the Mediterranean Sea and fears her home could be struck by Israel's navy, positioned off the coast. Every time she eats or prays, she tells me, I wonder if it's my last time. Let's take a listen.

RUBAKIA: I don't know if it's going to be safe to leave the home or not in the first place. And if it's safe to leave the home, is the destination going to be safe or not? Nobody knows. And if it's safe now, will it be safe in 10 minutes? Nobody knows.

BATRAWY: My colleague, Majd Al-Waheidi, spoke with Dr. Medhat Abbas. He's the director general of Gaza's health ministry. He said already a hospital and many high-rise towers have been struck by Israel.

MEDHAT ABBAS: They said, we have not started yet. We have not started yet. What's the meaning of they will start? We don't know what will happen if they start. If after all of that, they have not started, then what will happen when they really? I don't know. Are they planning for a big massacre in Gaza? I don't know. But they are only civilians. I mean, who will pay for that (inaudible) civilians?

DETROW: Aya, any sense from the people you're talking to, from what you're seeing, how this could end?

BATRAWY: Well, tonight, we know Israeli tanks continue to head south to the border with Gaza. And that raises the specter of a land invasion. There are fears that this conflict could widen, we've already seen, and that it could inflame an already tense situation between Israelis and Palestinians in the West Bank. And from where I'm standing, there's a lot of shock and disbelief at how an attack of this magnitude could happen. Many Israelis are calling it a catastrophic intelligence failures - and questions, too, if Hamas acted alone or with Iran's backing. So on both sides, there's anguish and questions about how does this end, or, really, will it ever end?

DETROW: That's NPR's Aya Batrawy in Tel Aviv. Thank you so much.

BATRAWY: Thank you, Scott. 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.

Aya Batrawy
Aya Batraway is an NPR International Correspondent based in Dubai. She joined in 2022 from the Associated Press, where she was an editor and reporter for over 11 years.