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Israel masses troops at border but signs of Mideast diplomacy emerge

July 9, 2014 at 6:09 PM EDT
Israeli forces continued Gaza airstrikes, while Hamas aimed more rockets at Tel Aviv. Israeli officials suggested a possible ground offensive. Judy Woodruff gets an update from Josef Federman of The Associated Press from Jerusalem about the casualties, the emotions for civilians on both sides and early signs of diplomatic efforts to halt the violence.

JUDY WOODRUFF: A short time ago, I spoke again to Josef Federman, who is in Jerusalem covering the story for the Associated Press.

Josef, hello again.

The situation only seems to have deteriorated since you and I talked last night. Tell us first what you’re learning about casualties.

JOSEF FEDERMAN, The Associated Press: Yes. The casualty count continues to grow day by day. Here we are at the end of second day of fighting.

We now have over 50 Palestinians who have been killed in airstrikes by Israel. A fair number, probably about a quarter to a third of them, maybe 20 20 people so far, are confirmed as civilians. It includes women and some young children.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And casualties on the Israeli side?

JOSEF FEDERMAN: The Israelis, so far, the casualties have been very light. There have been I believe just a handful of soldiers maybe lightly wounded by shrapnel, rocket explosions, that type of thing.

But Israel has done a very good job. It’s developed a rocket defense system called Iron Dome, a U.S.-funded system, that seems to be doing a very good job at shooting down anything that seems to be headed towards populated areas. Most of the rockets, they tend to fall in open areas and not hit anything.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And you were describing for us last night how sophisticated the Israeli military is. I guess the question some people have is, if they are so more advanced than what the Palestinians have, why haven’t they been able to take out these batteries where the rockets are coming from?

JOSEF FEDERMAN: That’s a great question.

And it just seems that these rocket batteries are located everywhere, around every corner. Just yesterday, my colleagues in Gaza City in our office looked to the side off the balcony out of our building. Swoosh, two rockets just took off right — almost from outside the building. They had no idea that that was there.

There are so many. The infrastructure just seems to be hidden and so widespread, it is almost impossible for Israel to stop it altogether.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, again, you and — again, you talked about this last night — but what about how people are dealing with it? Do they see this as something temporary? Are they worried that it continues?

JOSEF FEDERMAN: Yes, I think people are stressed out on both sides.

I think in Israel, there’s a sense — because they have been through this before, there’s a sense that it will blow over eventually. It may take a week, it may take two weeks. No one knows. In Gaza, I get the sense that there’s really a sense of dread just because these airstrikes, the amount of power is just so overwhelming, and they don’t know where they’re coming from.

There’s very little advanced warning. In many cases, there’s no warning. And when an airstrike hits a building, it is flattened, flattened into rubble. So it can be a pretty terrifying experience.

Like I told you yesterday, a lot of people have fled their homes, they’re moving to areas, moving to relatives where they think they are going to be safer. So there is really a sense of dread in Gaza.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Now, there are some reports, Josef, of diplomatic efforts to try to put a stop to this. The Egyptians — Egyptian leader has gotten involved. What have you learned about that?

JOSEF FEDERMAN: Yes, it seems that — even on the second day, it seems like we are already reaching sort of a crossroads.

On one hand, Israel is massing its troops along the border for a possible ground incursion. On the other hand, you see signs of diplomacy. So, the Egyptian president, Al-Sisi, put out an announcement today. He said he is in very intensive contacts with all the relevant sides.

He was also in touch with the U.N. secretary-general. The Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, also says he has been in touch with various parties, including John Kerry, the secretary of state, the German Chancellor Merkel and other officials.

So, there does seem to be a little bit of — there’s diplomatic efforts that are just beginning. That said, the sense is that it’s going to take a little while to play out and I think this is going on at least for a few more days, a few more days of fighting.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But, meantime, as you say, Israeli reservists have been called up. Some — tell us what you know about what they’re doing and what they would be expected to do.

JOSEF FEDERMAN: Well, my impression is that the reservists are actually playing a support role, and that they are going into less critical areas, or areas that are not as tense, right now, the West Bank, or possibly the northern front along Syria, Lebanon.

I get the sense that they’re being moved to areas like that, while the active troops, the people doing their active duty, are moving down south to the border, because the presumption is they would be better trained and ready to go.

But, so far, we’re talking roughly about 10,000 reservists have been called up. So that allows that number of forces to make their way to the border. My understanding is, it takes times to mobilize. It could be a few days before they have what they need in place and before the government can make a decision on whether to go in.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Josef Federman, we thank you very much, reporting again for us from Jerusalem. Thank you.