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Gaza's civilians struggle to find safe places to take refuge post cease-fire


Intense fighting continued in Gaza today after the cease-fire there ended on Friday. Israeli officials say they're making progress against Hamas, killing fighters and destroying hundreds of underground complexes used by the militant group. But the war has also been devastating for civilians, who are struggling to find safe places to take refuge. NPR's Brian Mann is in Tel Aviv, and he joins us now. Hi, Brian.

BRIAN MANN, BYLINE: Hi there, Miles.

PARKS: So what do the Israelis say they're accomplishing now that the fighting has resumed?

MANN: Israel's military says they are now fighting across Gaza in the north and the south. That includes devastating airstrikes targeting Hamas. And also, they are describing ground operations. Here's Colonel Peter Lerner, a spokesman for Israel's army.


PETER LERNER: The type of combat that we are facing on the ground includes urban warfare, close combat, sometimes door to door, and especially explosive devices, anti-tank guided missiles, RPGs and sniper fire and machine gun fire.

MANN: And Israel's army said in a statement today they've discovered more than 800 of these underground tunnel complexes used by Hamas since this war began. Officials say they're making progress against Hamas, of course, in response to that October 7 attack that killed 1,200 Israelis.

PARKS: But the Biden administration is pushing Israel to do more to protect civilians in this conflict. Vice President Kamala Harris, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin have both come out and said that Israel has a moral responsibility to protect innocent people. How are the Israelis responding to those pushes?

MANN: Yeah, Israeli officials say they've designated so-called safer zones inside Gaza, where Palestinians can take refuge from the fighting. But Palestinians in this densely populated area say it's just not working. NPR's producer Anas Baba, who's in Gaza, spoke to one man, Mohammed Mahmoud Abdullah Al-Najili, in Gaza, who said there are absolutely not safe places to go.

MOHAMMED MAHMOUD ABDULLAH AL-NAJILI: (Non-English language spoken).

MANN: Al-Najili told NPR that dozens of his family members were killed and injured in an Israeli airstrike when they thought they were in an area designated safe by Israel. NPR wasn't able to confirm his account, Miles, but we have heard from numerous sources, including the Gaza Health Ministry, saying that people just aren't finding refuge from Israel's offensive. The health ministry reported today the death toll among Palestinians has surged above 15,500 people, with more than 41,000 civilians wounded and many of them children.

PARKS: I know there's also been reports of illness in Gaza. Can you tell us about that, Brian?

MANN: Yeah, the World Health Organization is really worried about this. They've documented more than 35,000 cases of diarrhea among very young children under the age of 5. There's a huge spike of cases of severe respiratory illness. And for the two-plus million Palestinians there, it's just difficult now to find clean drinking water, and hygiene is nearly impossible. And for now, there's really no relief in sight.

PARKS: That's NPR's Brian Mann in Tel Aviv. Thanks, Brian.

MANN: Thank you, Miles. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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