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With no sign of cease-fire, current Mideast conflict could become long campaign

July 8, 2014 at 6:23 PM EDT
More rocket attacks and airstrikes ratcheted up tensions between Israel and Palestinians. One militant rocket reached as far as Tel Aviv, while Israeli air force strikes killed at least 25 people inside Gaza. Judy Woodruff talks to Josef Federman of The Associated Press from Jerusalem about the capabilities and motives of both sides, as well as the sense of fear gripping the region.

JUDY WOODRUFF: A short time ago, I spoke with Josef Federman, who is reporting from Jerusalem for the Associated Press.

Josef, thank you for talking with us again.

How much has the situation escalated since I talked to you at this time yesterday?

JOSEF FEDERMAN, The Associated Press: Well, clearly, it’s a lot worse.

Israel carried out, I think, over 150 airstrikes overnight and throughout the day. Hamas responded with about the same number of rockets. So the number of attacks are much higher than what we have seen in the past few days. Also, the rockets are flying further than we have seen before. We had airstrikes here in Jerusalem tonight, also in Tel Aviv. And there were even air raid sirens north of Tel Aviv. This is deeper than anything has ever flown before, so Israel’s sort of dealing with uncharted waters right now.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, describe the scene where you are in Israel. How are people dealing with it there?

JOSEF FEDERMAN: Yes, it’s a difficult situation, I think, for everyone. The sound of air raid sirens, it’s a very chilling experience to go through. You never really get used to it, and people have learned to stay store indoors or close to shelter. And you see these sirens going off and people in Tel Aviv and in Jerusalem running for cover.

The situation in Gaza, of course, is even worse with airstrikes. There were buildings that were flattened today. We have seen some chilling scenes of people running away from the ruins of crushed buildings, women holding screaming children, people with bloody faces. So it’s really terrifying, I think, on both sides.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Josef, what can you tell us about the targets on each side? Can you tell what each side is trying to hit or who?

JOSEF FEDERMAN: Yes, the Hamas strategy has always been the rockets that they use are not guided missiles. They’re very inaccurate and they just fire them and wherever they land, they land.

So the idea, I think, is more to just strike fear into people’s hearts. You don’t know where they’re going to land, and hundreds of thousands of people are just forced to stay indoors or to stay very close to shelter. So it’s just scary because of the random nature of this.

In Gaza, the amount of force, the weapons that Israel has are just so much stronger and the amount of damage it can do is so much stronger. So I was talking to a colleague in Gaza this evening. He tells me the streets are just empty there. People are terrified to go outdoors, and lots of people are leaving areas close to the border. They’re fearing that there may be an Israeli ground incursion.

And they’re seeking shelter with relatives and friends sort of deeper inland, hoping that they’re going to be safer.

JUDY WOODRUFF: You mentioned that the Israeli firepower is so much stronger than that of the Palestinians. Quantify that. What is the capability of the Palestinians? And what’s the capability of the Israelis?

JOSEF FEDERMAN: Well, the Palestinians have thousands of rockets, and you shouldn’t dismiss the threat of a rocket. Obviously, they’re deadly weapons.

But the amount of explosives that they carry are relatively small by international standards. Most of the rockets they possess do not fly long distances, maybe 10 to 20 miles inside of Israel. But Hamas has developed very sophisticated or increasingly sophisticated weapons that now cover a good chunk of Israel, including Israel’s two largest cities.

So you have probably half of the country’s population now are subject to the threats of these rockets. As for the Israeli side, Israel has everything from warplanes to attack helicopters to tanks to artillery batteries and very sophisticated guided missiles, GPS systems, drones that are believed to be able to deliver weapons.

So just the amount of firepower is just a lot stronger, and the number of directions that Israel can fire from, including naval forces as well. So they have many more options than just the payload that they can deliver is a lot larger.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Are there any voices at this point urging restraint on each side?

JOSEF FEDERMAN: So far, I have not heard anything along those lines. In fact, one of the Israel’s senior cabinet ministers, the cabinet minister in charge of internal security, he was on TV this morning.

And he told the public, he said, first of all, you have to be ready for a long campaign. This isn’t going to take a day or two. It’s going to be longer. He also said that the idea of a cease-fire is out of the question right now. It’s not even on the table.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And why is that? Do you — does your reporting — what can you say from your reporting about why that’s the thinking now?

JOSEF FEDERMAN: The thinking is that just the rocket fire is so heavy, there’s no sign of it stopping. And they believe they have to continue once and for all to stop this threat.

You have to realize, Israel has been down this road several times in the past five or six years. There was a large offensive in 2009, another one in 2012. And it just seems that, when they do these things, it brings them a year or two or maybe three of quiet, and then it’s back to the same old pattern. So I think there’s just a sense of exhaustion on the Israeli side. And this time, they want to kind of stamp it out once and for all.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But perhaps some division among the Palestinians?

JOSEF FEDERMAN: You hear it from the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, who is based in the West Bank. He is not in Gaza. He’s calling for restraint. He has always been an outspoken critic of violence. He’s anti-violence.

But, in Gaza, you don’t hear anything, at least publicly. The Hamas militants are still speaking with the same strong language, where they are committed to resistance, and they say they’re going to keep up the rocket fire. Where I think maybe you will hear some of the opposition is just private voices.

Like I say, when I speak to colleagues and friends in Gaza, and people are terrified indoors, I think everybody wants to see an end to this pretty quickly.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Josef Federman with the AP reporting from Jerusalem, thank you.