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The latest on Israel's bombing of the largest Gazan refugee camp

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

Israel unleashed a devastating airstrike today on the largest refugee camp in Gaza. Israel says it killed a senior Hamas commander. Palestinians say it caused a large number of civilian casualties, though no precise figures are yet available. For the latest, we have NPR's Greg Myre on the line from Tel Aviv. And, Greg, what can you tell us? What do we know about the strike?

GREG MYRE, BYLINE: So the Israeli strike hit the Jabalia refugee camp. And despite this name, it's not a tent camp. It's a long-established neighborhood with apartment buildings dating back decades. And it's right on the outskirts of Gaza City. Now, the Hamas-run Interior Ministry says the Israeli jets fired at least six bombs on the crowded neighborhood, creating a number of craters. Multiple apartment blocks and homes were destroyed or badly damaged. Dust-covered residents recovered the bodies of the dead. They carried off the wounded for treatment, and some of them just wailed with grief. Palestinians are describing this as one of the deadliest Israeli attack (ph) yet, though as you mentioned, we do not currently have reliable casualty figures.

SUMMERS: And, Greg, at this point, what is Israel saying about this attack?

MYRE: So the military gave a briefing and said the target was Hamas militants, including Ibrahim Biari, described as a senior commander and a central figure in the October 7 Hamas attack on Israel. The military said one of Hamas' underground tunnels was destroyed. Israel claims Biari was killed, though it's not clear how Israel was able to confirm this so quickly. Hamas says he's not dead and that Israel is intentionally killing civilians. On most days, Palestinian officials in Gaza are reporting hundreds of civilians killed.

SUMMERS: Right. Well, in this attack and many others, Israel says the target is Hamas. But in many instances, the civilian toll is indeed high. How does Israel account for that?

MYRE: So Israel says that Hamas leaders are using Palestinian civilians as human shields. They say Hamas members live in crowded neighborhoods, and they often move around in a tunnel network that was intentionally built under heavily populated areas. And human rights groups, including an Israeli one, said that's no excuse for killing civilians in wartime. Israel says it's told Palestinians to leave northern Gaza. Many have heeded the warning and gone to southern Gaza, which is also being bombed, though not quite as intensively. Some Palestinians have remained in the north because they say they can't leave or simply aren't willing to abandon their homes. Clearly, this is not stopping the Israeli airstrikes. Jabalia had well over 100,000 residents squeezed into a very small space before the fighting began, and some have left. But clearly, there were many still there.

SUMMERS: Right. And this airstrike today, it took place near Gaza City with Israeli ground troops operating nearby. When you think about it, what does this attack and others in recent days tell us about Israel's approach here?

MYRE: So the Israeli ground forces have been moving toward the northern and eastern outskirts of Gaza City, which is on the Mediterranean coast, and there are clashes on the ground. But Israel is still calling in massive airstrikes like the one today. So it seems like they're doing this sort of two-part approach where the ground forces appear to be trying to push the Hamas fighters towards Gaza City and then unleash heavy airstrikes against them. This is creating high casualty figures. But the Israeli forces are making progress on the ground and squeezing the Hamas fighters into this tighter, tighter region.

SUMMERS: That is NPR's Greg Myre in Tel Aviv. Greg, thank you.

MYRE: Thanks, Juana. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Greg Myre
Greg Myre is a national security correspondent with a focus on the intelligence community, a position that follows his many years as a foreign correspondent covering conflicts around the globe.