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Israel's Netanyahu vows to press ahead in war with Hamas. U.S. urges caution

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is digging in on his war against Hamas, as Israeli strikes in central and in south Gaza intensified over the past few days.

ASMA KHALID, HOST:

In a speech to the Knesset on Monday, he vowed to keep fighting until Israel achieves its stated goal of destroying Hamas. That despite some public pressure from the Biden administration to protect civilians in Gaza.

FADEL: Here to discuss all of this is NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman. Good morning, Tom.

TOM BOWMAN, BYLINE: Hey, Leila.

FADEL: Hi. So, Tom, let's start with Netanyahu. He says he'll continue and even go deeper with this war. What's the U.S. saying?

BOWMAN: Well, President Biden spoke with Netanyahu over the weekend and said only they had a long talk. And Biden said he did not ask for a cease-fire. The U.S. does want Israel to curtail bombing and go to a more precise ground operation. That's just not happening, at least not yet. And just a day ago, some 70 to 80 civilians were killed in airstrikes in Gaza in a crowded neighborhood. And, of course, Leila, as you know, the death toll is more than 20,000 now, with the majority women and children. You know, I was talking with a retired senior U.S. officer with long experience in the Middle East about all this, and he told me Israel will listen to the U.S. and then do things its own way.

FADEL: Just staggering numbers there. What else do we know about what's happening on the ground for Palestinians who are trying to find safety?

BOWMAN: Well, a lot of displaced. Human Rights Watch says 85% of Gazans now are displaced, nearly half kind of near the border with Egypt. A senior administration official told reporters a month ago the U.S. did not want to see large numbers of Palestinians who were in northern Gaza, remember, forced south by Israeli forces, displaced once again. But that is happening to many thousands of Palestinians. Now, the Israelis are providing maps and information about safer places to go. But, Leila, it's online, and with communications blackouts, it's kind of difficult to make that happen. Now, the U.S. wants Israel to curtail bombing and go to a more precise ground operation. That's just not happening, at least not yet. And of course, the death toll, again, as we said, it's more than 20,000.

FADEL: Yeah. All this as the U.N. put a report out saying half a million people are starving in Gaza, and the risk of famine is growing every day. But what about the concern about a larger regional war? The White House said last night that it conducted airstrikes on militants in Iraq. Help us understand the bigger context here.

BOWMAN: Well, the White House says three U.S. military personnel were wounded, one critically, in an attack by Kataib Hezbollah, an Iranian-backed group in Iraq. The U.S. responded with airstrikes. We're seeing these attacks from Iranian-backed groups that also back Hamas in the war against Israel. Houthi rebels in Yemen have been attacking commercial ships in the Red Sea, about a dozen or more in the past two months. The U.S. has responded by creating a naval coalition to protect commercial ships in the Red Sea. It's a wait-and-see attitude by the shipping companies. Some are going around Africa as a way to reach Europe. But again, this coalition of naval ships has just begun.

FADEL: Right now, as we're talking about the possibility of a regional war, the fighting continues in Gaza. What do we know about any diplomatic efforts to try to stop it?

BOWMAN: Well, Egypt has proposed a plan to bring an end to the war by installing a new governing body in Gaza to replace Hamas. Reuters news agency is reporting Hamas has rejected the deal. The Egyptian plan calls for the release of all hostages and the freeing of more imprisoned Palestinians, along with exchange of bodies of Israelis and Palestinians killed during the war. And now Qatar brokered the first cease-fire, as you might remember, with Hamas' political office in Doha. It's likely to be involved in any future deals, but we just don't know at this point.

FADEL: NPR's Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman. Thanks, Tom.

BOWMAN: You're welcome. 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.

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.
Tom Bowman is a NPR National Desk reporter covering the Pentagon.