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What Makes This Fight In Gaza Different From The Others?


New York Times correspondent Anne Barnard has just left Gaza after spending three weeks covering the war. I asked her how the current conflict in Gaza compared with previous episode of fighting and blood shed there.

ANNE BARNARD: The main thing that's different is that the impact on average people is huge. There's been far more strikes on people in their houses. And right from the beginning of the conflict, not something that evolved later as in the previous two similar wars. So, there's a sense that no where is safe, that there are strikes being carried out all over the place and even if you fled you might find that you fled to a place that was about to be hit.

WESTERVELT: And Annie, hospitals and U.N. schools have been hit in this latest round of fighting and unlike Israel there are no bomb shelters in Gaza where civilians can take shelter. You witnessed some heart wrenching scenes in al-Shifa, Gaza City's main hospital, can you tell us some of what you saw there?

BARNARD: WEL, Shifa Hospital was incredibly chaotic. There were exhausted doctors and nurses just working essentially around-the-clock, sometimes not even having times to clean up the blood from the floor. But really it's the small things you notice, like I saw a little girl just crying for her mother. Then at the next table there was a little girl who was being pronounced dead alone without any family around her. You notice things like one man running around crying after having been told that his wife was dead and no one in the crowd could bring themselves to tell him that his children were also dead.

WESTERVELT: I remember similar heart wrenching scenes when I covered Gaza. Hamas has already paid a big price Annie, you know, over 1000 dead, the majority of them civilians. Thousands more injured, once again neighborhoods have been destroyed. I'm curious, politically and strategically has Hamas gained anything of substance from this latest conflict?

BARNARD: Strategically their aim is to get the near blockade of Gaza lifted. I'm not sure that's going to happen from this. And there's a danger of ending up in the same situation, the same stalemate that existed with Israel before. Another question is whether the population will be angry at Hamas for the fact that there are no bomb shelters here. The fact that civilians took the brunt of the casualties while Hamas was able to hide in sophisticated tunnels. That said, you know, before this happened people were frustrated with Hamas, salaries weren't being paid, loyalties were maybe 50-50 between Hamas and its main rival Fatah. Now it's 100 percent with the resistance, meaning Hamas.

WESTERVELT: The tunnel network in Gaza South has been used for years to get goods and weapons into Gaza. It's been a kind of lifeline for Hamas and Israel has regularly bombed it. But their expansive tunnel system near the border with Israel seems to have added some new twist to this latest round of fighting. Has it?

BARNARD: Yes, I think so, because even during an intensive ground invasion Hamas was able to infiltrate Israel several times in several different places. So, a conflict that started out as being said to be about rockets is now focused as well on tunnels.

WESTERVELT: Now the more moderate Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank, advocates a negotiated peace deal with Israel. Those peace talks have gone nowhere and he's long been seen as weak and ineffectual. Do you think the conflict has further eroded Abbas's standing among Palestinian people?

BARNARD: Well, yes, I think so, because the whole idea of how the political problem was going to be solved before this conflict broke out was that there was national consensus government that included a Abbas's Fatah Party and Hamas. That government was essentially unable to govern in Gaza or really to be effective anywhere. And now there's a question of who is going to be the legitimate government in Gaza going forward.

WESTERVELT: Anne Barnard is a correspondent for the New York Times. Annie good to talk with you. Thank you.

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