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Israel targeted airstrikes in densely populated areas of the Gaza Strip


Israeli airstrikes on Gaza continue today. The army says it targeted Islamic Jihad operatives at a rocket launch site. Palestinian health officials say that an earlier round of strikes killed at least 15 people, including women and children. These strikes come, according to Israel, in response to recent attacks on them. Dov Lieber covers Israel and the Palestinian territories for The Wall Street Journal. He is in Tel Aviv.

Welcome to the program.

DOV LIEBER: Thank you for having me, Steve.

INSKEEP: And I just want to remember the basics here. Gaza is a crowded Palestinian zone surrounded by Israeli fences and walls. So where in that area are these Israeli airstrikes hitting?

LIEBER: Yesterday, they took place - some in Gaza City and some in a town in the south called Rafah. The one in Gaza City took place in one of the most crowded - densely crowded neighborhoods in Gaza. It struck some 6- or 7-floor-sized building.

INSKEEP: OK, so hitting an urban area. And as I understand it, the Israeli military has acknowledged some collateral damage, as the phrase goes, which tends to mean civilian casualties. Is it clear to you there have been civilian casualties?

LIEBER: That's correct. Both sides - Israeli officials acknowledge that civilians were killed. In fact, the majority - as you said at the beginning of this piece, that the majority of people killed by the strikes were civilians, 12 out of 15. In fact, Israeli officials knew that family members, including the wives and some of the children of these Islamic Jihad commanders, would be there when they killed them. They decided to carry out the operation anyway. According to them, they have held off assassinating these figures in the past because they were worried about too much civilian damage. And this time, they believe that this is considered a proportional response to the threat that those Islamic Jihad commanders posed to Israeli civilians.

INSKEEP: I want to understand how Islamic Jihad fits into the broader picture here. The Gaza Strip, the Gaza area is controlled by Hamas, a Palestinian group. Islamic Jihad is there, but separate. Who are they, and what are they doing, and what do they want?

LIEBER: That's correct. Islamic Jihad is the second- or potentially the first-biggest militant group in the Gaza Strip. And for many years, we saw Israel squaring off mainly with Hamas, and Islamic Jihad kind of in the background. But what we've seen in the last few years is a kind of reverse of this. Hamas is the governing body of Gaza. It has to control the population, and it is responsible for the population. Islamic Jihad is not. It doesn't govern there. It receives guns, money and weapons from Iran, just like Hamas does.

But Islamic Jihad doesn't have the same kind of responsibility towards the people who live in Gaza. And because of this, Israeli strategy has been to force Hamas to balance the economic benefits of fighting Israel for the people who live in Gaza. And Hamas, you know, it doesn't want to anger the civilians who live there. But Islamic Jihad is not the same situation. So what we've seen in the past two years really is Israel squaring off with Islamic Jihad and trying to keep Hamas out of the equation. In fact, one of the big questions today really is whether Hamas will finally rejoin the fray, and when Islamic Jihad retaliates, will Hamas join them as well?

INSKEEP: Dov Lieber covers Israel and the Palestinian territories for The Wall Street Journal. Really appreciate your insights.

Thanks so much.

LIEBER: Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.