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Despite airstrikes and drive-by shooting, Israeli-Palestinian flare-up hasn't spiraled

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Some other news now. Israel's military carried out what it calls limited strikes on Palestinian targets - militant targets, Israel says - in southern Lebanon and in Gaza. These strikes come after rocket fire from both on Tuesday. Nobody was killed. And Israel is signaling that it would like to keep this situation from escalating. Here's military spokesman Richard Hecht.

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RICHARD HECHT: Nobody wants an escalation right now. Quiet will be answered with quiet at this stage.

INSKEEP: Although, there's not a lot of quiet in the Middle East right now. Israeli officials say that somebody opened fire on an Israeli car and killed two people. Also, Israeli police have scuffled with Palestinians at the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem in the old city, where worshippers are attending Friday Ramadan prayers. NPR's Daniel Estrin is nearby. Hey there, Daniel.

DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: Hi, Steve.

INSKEEP: What's it look like and feel like where you are?

ESTRIN: You know, Steve, it's surprising. We weren't expecting this. But it's incredibly peaceful, at least the way it feels where I am in the old city. I'm looking at the Mount of Olives. The Al-Aqsa Mosque is in front of me. I watched thousands of Muslims stream out of the old city after Ramadan prayers. Now you might be able to hear the call to prayer now. I mean, there were some minor scuffles this morning between police and Palestinians.

But there is this real effort to keep things quiet. And, you know, I've seen Palestinian women selling herbs and a salesman blowing bubbles and tourists from Spain walking with a big cross to mark Jesus' footsteps on Good Friday, which is today - and of course, Jews also celebrating Passover. All of this in this small area of the old city of Jerusalem. So you know, it's a reminder this is also a moment of joy for many families gathering for holy days, but also an uncertain time.

INSKEEP: Daniel, thank you for illustrating the value of sending a reporter to go look for himself or look for themselves. It's good that you're there and you're getting a perspective on this. So there were scuffles. But you're saying, more broadly, things are peaceful where you are. For most people, they're going about Friday prayers as they would want to do. There was, however, this shooting in the West Bank. So this is away from Jerusalem, away from where you are. There was this shooting. What happened?

ESTRIN: There was a drive-by shooting on an Israeli car, Steve. Two Israeli women in their 20s were killed. A third woman was wounded. This was in the occupied West Bank, so about a hour or two's drive from where I am. And there is a search for the shooter. But when I've been speaking to Israeli and Palestinian analysts, they are saying that Hamas in Gaza seems to be at the center of efforts, almost for a year now, to try to encourage a Palestinian uprising in these parts, in the West Bank and in Jerusalem. And Ramadan provides a perfect platform when you have all these heightened religious sentiments. And we're seeing some of that violence now.

INSKEEP: So we don't know exactly who targeted this car or why. But I think you're telling us that is the question. Is someone trying to provoke something larger where you are? That's the question, right?

ESTRIN: That's absolutely right. And, you know, it's just very unpredictable. We saw the strikes from Lebanon, rockets from Lebanon and Gaza yesterday. Israel responded. Now it seems like Israel's limited response was kind of designed to allow all the actors in this region - Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas, even maybe Iran - to kind of step back from the brink. We're going to have to see. It's a very sensitive moment.

INSKEEP: NPR's Daniel Estrin is in Jerusalem. Thanks for your clear-eyed reporting, really appreciate it.

ESTRIN: Sure thing. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Daniel Estrin
Daniel Estrin is NPR's international correspondent in Jerusalem.