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What’s the latest on Israel’s ground offensive into Gaza?

July 19, 2014 at 7:11 PM EDT
Palestinian militants invaded Israel through a tunnel Saturday and killed several Israeli soldiers, marking the second time in three days that militants have used tunnels to invade. A journalist in Jerusalem gives the latest on the ground offensive.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Turning now to the other major international story dominating the headlines—the invasion of Gaza. An offensive, Israel says, is designed to locate tunnels and designed to stop rockets from being fired from Gaza into Israel.

Palestinian authorities say more than 330 Palestinians, most of them civilians, have been killed during the past two weeks. Israel says militants have fired more than 1,600 rockets into Israel during that time.

For more, we are joined now via Skype from Jerusalem by Jodi Rudoren. She is The New York Times bureau chief there.

So, what’s the latest on the ground offensive that’s been happening there over the past couple of days?

JODI RUDOREN: Well, the latest thing that happened was this morning Palestinian militants again invaded Israel through a tunnel, and they engaged with soldiers on the ground there who were on patrol and killed two Israeli soldiers and one of the militants was killed as well in a gunfight. This is the second time in three days that militants have come through tunnels into Israel, and that was the basic reason that the ground operation was begun.

So, the Israeli military and political leaders have warned of this threat and said that they are determined to destroy all the tunnels that are in Gaza that lead into Israel to avoid future invasions. They talk about that if Gazans got through they could kidnap Israeli civilians from the kibbutzim that are located there go, or go on a killing spree.

HARI SREENIVASAN: We’ve also heard that the ground offensive and the air offensive have created a refugee situation, that there’s some 47,000 refugees heading to different UN shelters in the area.

JODI RUDOREN: Yeah, I think it’s gone up even more today to over 50,000. And as my colleague Ann Bernard, who’s in Gaza reported, it’s really much higher than that because so many people there are not going to the shelters. They’re just fleeing their homes and going to relatives’ houses or friends. So there’s any number—maybe 100,000 people who are displaced, who knows?

HARI SREENIVASAN: Any update on the diplomatic front? Any efforts towards a ceasefire?

JODI RUDOREN: Not really. There doesn’t seem to be much progress. The Israelis keep saying if Hamas accepts the Egyptian proposal, they’re ready for it. But it’s unclear where things stand. John Kerry was again rumored to be coming to Cairo and has not shown up. I believe Ban Ki-moon is supposed to be coming today. I haven’t heard anything about whether that’s actually happening or what he’s doing here. So, there’s no public progress. We don’t know exactly what’s going on behind the scenes.

HARI SREENIVASAN: What’s this doing to U.S. leverage in the region?

JODI RUDOREN: Well, I think the U.S. has lost a lot of its leverage in the region, a lot of its credibility here, starting really with what happened with Syria when President Obama said he was going to attack, and then said he was going to ask Congress, and then ended up with a negotiated solution. A lot of people here thought that was a sign of real change, the resolve of Washington to observe its own red lines. And just throughout the Arab world, it has changed America’s role. The other thing, of course, is that the United States has a lot of other things on its plate. And now we’ve got this huge crisis in Ukraine that’s diverting attention. Of course, there’s still the Iran negotiations. So, I think people here are not relying on the U.S. in the way that they have before.

HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, Jodi Rudoren of The New York Times, thanks so much.

JODI RUDOREN: Thank you.