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Israel launches airstrikes on Gaza after Hamas surprise attacks

SCOTT DETROW, HOST:

Israel says it is at war after the Palestinian group Hamas launched an unprecedented attack on its territory. In an early-morning assault, the militant group infiltrated Israel's southern border from Gaza, using motorbikes, paragliders and boats, launching thousands of rockets. Hamas says it has taken Israeli soldiers and civilians hostage. In response, Israel has carried out a wave of airstrikes inside the Gaza Strip. The death toll on both sides is rising. At least 250 Israelis have been killed and more than 1,000 wounded. Health officials in Gaza say more than 230 Palestinians have been killed and more than nearly 2,000 injured. This is one of the biggest escalations in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in over a generation.

NPR's Daniel Estrin joins us now from the south of Israel. Hey, Daniel.

DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: Hi, Scott.

DETROW: How did all of this unfold?

ESTRIN: Well, it started early this morning. I was in Tel Aviv and heard air-raid sirens and booms. I went into a reinforced sheltered room, and it just is continuing to unfold since then. Today has been a Jewish holiday, and it really caught Israel unawares. This is also the 50th anniversary of the Yom Kippur War, which was another surprise attack on Israel. So that war was a major trauma in Israel, and I'm already hearing Israelis saying this attack today is catching them almost even more shocked. They were witness to videos coming out from Hamas of militants coming in on trucks, on paraglides, by the sea.

It was a massive Israeli intelligence failure to have what the Israeli military says are hundreds of Hamas militants coming and infiltrating into the country. All day long, we've heard air-raid sirens and rocket fire from Gaza on to Israel. All the way late into the night here, still, we're hearing about fighting in dozens of Israeli communities where Hamas militants have infiltrated.

DETROW: And you right now are in the main hospital in the south, where these Palestinian militant infiltrations have taken place. Tell me what you're seeing.

ESTRIN: Yeah. I'm in the reception area here, and I've just - I've met family after family of people, for instance, who have missing children, children - young children in their 20s who were at an outdoor festival. We met a young man who was at that festival who was - said he was shot in the back. He suddenly saw about five trucks, about 50 Palestinian militants encircling this large group of people at this festival as they ran in fields, and he hid under a car. He says the militants found him and shot him. We met a religious Jewish man who was wounded at his synagogue from shrapnel to his leg, from rocket fire.

And we also met many Muslims here, Palestinian citizens of Israel. One man said his sister was killed. Another man said his brother came under fire and is missing, perhaps taken hostage in Gaza. And that is a key thing we are hearing from Hamas and also the Israeli military confirming that Hamas has taken Israelis kidnapped, under hostage. At one point, Scott, we walked into one of the hospital rooms here, and I ran into an old professor of mine from Brandeis University near Boston, where I did my undergraduate degree, Professor Ilan Troen. And here's what he told me.

ILAN TROEN: My daughter and son in law were killed today, but, in their dying, saved his life. They followed his body. They were all together in the secure room. And they covered his body, and he was saved. He - nevertheless, a bullet penetrated them and went into his abdomen.

DETROW: Oh, my...

ESTRIN: So many stories like that I've heard here, Scott.

DETROW: Tough conversations. I mean, in the 30 seconds or so we have left, what do we know of the scene in Gaza?

ESTRIN: Well, Israel has responded with airstrikes there. And Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is telling residents of Gaza, get out now. The Israeli military is going to, quote, "turn all of Hamas's hiding places into islands of ruins." We'll have to see how Israel responds going forward.

DETROW: That's NPR's Daniel Estrin on the scene for us. Thank you so much. We will be talking to you a lot in the coming days, Daniel. Stay safe.

ESTRIN: Thank you, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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