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More Deadly Fighting In Gaza Puts Cease-Fire In Question


For a time in Gaza, the guns fell silent. Now just hours into a three-day humanitarian cease-fire between Israel and Palestinian militants, it's over. The truce was announced in the middle of the night by Secretary of State John Kerry, who's now in the Delhi. But fighting near Gaza's border with Egypt has killed dozens of Palestinians. And now Israel says one of its soldiers may have been captured. NPR's Emily Harris has been reporting from Gaza throughout this conflict and joins us from Gaza City. Good morning.

EMILY HARRIS, BYLINE: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: And what do we know about how this truce collapsed?

HARRIS: Well, according to the Israeli military, their soldiers were working to destroy tunnels when they were attacked after the cease-fire began at 8:00. The military says that this attack involved a suicide bomber, and also said that during the fight that ensued, an Israeli soldier does appear to have been captured. Israel has released the name of that soldier and notified his family, and says that two other soldiers were killed. Israel says it had not carried out any - what an Israeli official termed - offensive fire until that time after the 8 o'clock cease-fire started but was continuing to destroy tunnels. Hamas is sending out some somewhat mixed messages right now. One spokesperson - a top political figure in Hamas who's not in Gaza but is in Cairo - says that the operation took place before the cease-fire happened. Another spokesperson on the ground here claims that Israel broke the truce by firing on Palestinian areas in Rafah - this is a town right on Egypt's border with Gaza. And as you mentioned, Palestinian news reports are saying that dozens of people were killed in Rafah of this morning after the cease-fire was supposed to have taken place.

MONTAGNE: Let's get back for a moment to that soldier. What does that mean for Israel?

HARRIS: Well, this can be significant in several ways. First of all, Israel's made it clear already that it's resumed attacks all over Gaza, and is using ground forces to try to locate the missing soldier. So this is going to potentially mean house to house searches, potentially more on the ground combat. It could raise the intensity of the fighting to a different level than we've seen so far, at least in most of Gaza. And also, it could increase the number of casualties on both sides. In terms of negotiations, Hamas clearly believes that holding an Israeli soldier betters its bargaining position. Hamas held one is Israeli soldier for five years in Gaza before finally striking a deal with Israel in 2011 to trade that soldier for more than a thousand Palestinian prisoners who are in Israeli custody. If the two sides do get to negotiations, you know, relatively soon about ending this war, it's not clear whether the captured soldier would be part of those negotiations or some kind of separate negotiations that would have to be settled first. There's a lot of different political ways this could go.

MONTAGNE: And Emily, all of this happened down near Gaza's southern border with Egypt. What is it like where you are in Gaza City?

HARRIS: In Gaza City right now, air strikes have continued. We've heard bombardments through the city. I saw one rocket go off, shoot up above into the blue sky North toward Israel, so it's clear that the cease-fire's over all over the place, not just in Rafah. I have spoken to people who were in Rafah today - this morning - and they spoke of heavy shelling both early in the morning before the cease-fire was supposed to take place in the six o'clock area and then also afterwards. One person I spoke to said it sounded calm for about a half an hour but said there was intense shelling around nine o'clock.

MONTAGNE: Well, just very, very briefly, that cease-fire lasted for four hours. In that brief moment of peace, what was going on in Gaza?

HARRIS: Yeah, I don't even think it lasted four hours. But in the couple hours that it did, people were out in the streets in Gaza City. One man I met was trying to sell off special salted fish that he wanted to sell during Ramadan - the Muslim holy month - it just happened. And he wasn't able to sell it then because it was the war. So he has five tons of salted fish he was trying to get rid. I'm not sure he got rid of all of them this morning.

MONTAGNE: Emily, thanks very much.

HARRIS: Thank you, Renee.

MONTAGNE: That's NPR's Emily Harris speaking to us from Gaza City. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

International Correspondent Emily Harris is based in Jerusalem as part of NPR's Mideast team. Her post covers news related to Israel, the West Bank and Gaza Strip. She began this role in March of 2013.