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Latest Round Of Violence Flared At The Gaza-Israel Border


There is a cease-fire after days of deadly rocket launches and airstrikes between Israeli forces and militants in Gaza. On Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered what he called massive strikes against militant groups in Gaza; that was in response to a barrage, at least 600 rockets and mortars fired at Israel since Friday. At least four Israelis and 23 Palestinians have been killed since this violence broke out, and many more have been wounded on both sides of the border.

I'm joined by Josef Federman. He is the Associated Press bureau chief for Israel and the Palestinian territories. Josef, thanks for being here.


GREENE: So talk us through this latest flare up and how it started.

FEDERMAN: Yeah, this is a recurring pattern. It's something that we've seen several times since a war in 2014; that was the last time we had extended violence. And since then we've had these informal cease-fires that are in place. And what we see, over and over, is that usually the Palestinian side accuses Israel of some sort of violation, somebody - a militant group - will fire a small number of rockets toward Israel to protest, to send a message, Israel will respond with airstrikes, and it escalates and gets worse and worse, and then the next thing you know, you have hundreds of rockets flying.

GREENE: Well, I mean, the - what you have just described, I mean, that dynamic, has it changed at all in recent years, or has it remained sort of just entrenched like that?

FEDERMAN: Well, it's a similar dynamic, except what's become kind of disturbing is that it's happening more frequently. After this last war in 2014, things remained quiet for several years - I think two or three years before it started to get worse. Now what we're seeing is that this pattern keeps on repeating itself; it used to be every few months, and now it's becoming every few weeks. We just went through the same thing twice in March.

GREENE: Well, contextualize this for me. I mean, how does this violence we're seeing right now compare to these last - you know, the last times this has happened?

FEDERMAN: Similar but worse; each time seems to get a little bit worse. Even in March, we also - we had another round with several hundred rockets, I believe - I don't remember the exact number - some pretty intense airstrikes. But this time around, we had Israelis killed for the first time since 2014 - four Israeli civilians. Pretty high death toll on the Palestinian side; we're now up to 25 today, including - you know, a bunch of them are civilians. We don't have the exact breakdown right now. So each time it seems to get a little bit worse.

GREENE: And this fighting, as I gather, broke out just as mediators were, you know, at least trying to negotiate some sort of long-term cease-fire agreement, right?

FEDERMAN: Exactly. So what happened in March - we had these two rounds of pretty intense fighting, and since then they've been working behind the scenes. It's usually Egypt; they've taken the lead because they're the one party. Israel and Hamas do not speak to each other. They're bitter enemies, so they work through Egyptian mediators. Also, the UN has been involved, and also, the Gulf state of Qatar has also been involved. So they had been trying to strengthen these understandings behind the scenes, and what happened - Hamas, about a week ago, accused Israel of stalling and not keeping its promises, and then things quickly deteriorated.

GREENE: OK. And we have this tentative cease-fire; it seems like it's in effect as of now. What exactly did the two sides agree to here, and is there hope in the region that this peace will hold?

FEDERMAN: Yeah. Basically, what the conditions always - Israel is always looking for quiet for quiet; Israel just wants Hamas to keep things quiet. Hamas wants Israel to ease this blockade on Gaza that has really devastated - Israel says it needs to maintain this blockade to prevent Hamas from importing arms and from strengthening. But the effect has been very devastating to the civilian population, as well. So Hamas wants Israel to ease this blockade.

And you know, they - so they're trying to strengthen these understandings. They're trying to allow more things, more money, into Gaza, more electricity into Gaza, to expand - there's a fishing zone; Gaza has kind of a big fishing industry - to expand the distance the fishermen can go out and so forth. They're trying to bring in jobs where international organizations would provide some money to provide temporary jobs for teachers and hospital workers and so forth. So that's what they're trying to strengthen up, but there's always this animosity in the background, and it's unclear whether they'll be able to move forward this time around, either.

GREENE: OK, so not clear the cease-fire is going to hold at this point. But the signs might be...

FEDERMAN: No. For now it's holding, until we go through the routine all over again.

GREENE: All right. Josef Federman reporting for The Associated Press. He is the bureau chief in Jerusalem. Thanks a lot for your time.

FEDERMAN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.