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Israel Expects More Withdrawals; Gaza Residents See Little Change


It's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR West. I'm Eric Westervelt sitting in for Arun Rath. In Israel, there's a growing expectation ground forces in Gaza will mostly be out soon. Yesterday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave mixed messages on what's ahead. But the military told Gazan residents it was safe to return to certain areas. Israeli news reports suggest soldiers are pulling back to Gaza's eastern edge. But with an Israeli airstrike today that killed 10 people in front of a school where Gazans had sought shelter and continued attacks elsewhere. Residents of Gaza see little change. NPR's Emily Harris reports.

EMILY HARRIS, BYLINE: One town the Israeli military told people it was safe to return to is Beit Lahiya. That's about two miles away from Gaza's northern border with Israel. Airstrikes have destroyed homes and mosques in the town. Residents there say there have been nights of intense shelling and that Israeli soldiers and Hamas militants battled at the town's northern edge. Thousands of people left Beit Lahiya seeking safety elsewhere, especially when the ground invasion began. But 17-year-old Moav Salem says he stayed the whole time.

MOAV SALEM: We will stay in our houses because I think when someone get out - outside his house, he is not a man.

HARRIS: As Salem spoke, strikes thudded within earshot, an aircraft buzzed overhead. A few blocks away, Saleh el-Masri said he left for a while, but brought his wife and 7 children back to Beit Lahiya a few days ago. He said residents don't put much stock in messages from the Israeli military.

SALEH EL-MASRI: (Through translator) People are right not to trust the Israeli instructions because last night and this morning there have been attacks in places it was suppose to be safe according to Israeli instructions.

HARRIS: Despite expectations in Israel that ground troops are moving out, the military will only confirm some repositioning. Palestinian officials in Gaza counted more than three dozen strikes and more than 70 deaths around Gaza today. Hani Gumain witnessed the strike that killed at least 10 people right outside the gates of a U.N. school where people sought safety in the city of Rafah, in Gaza's far south.

HANI GUMAIN: I saw the hit.

HARRIS: And he saw the aftermath.

GUMAIN: I see with my own eyes small pieces of human flesh, small pieces of motorcycle. I think they were hitting that. I don't know what to say. The whole place was upside down.

HARRIS: The U.S. condemned the strike as disgraceful. The United Nations said it reminded Israel's military of the school's location many times including one hour before the hit. The Israeli military says it targeted three members of the militant group, Islamic Jihad, on a motorcycle in the vicinity of a U.N. school and is reviewing the consciences of that strike. Hani Gumain was hardly fazed by what he saw.

GUMAIN: Today is not a big thing for me. Yesterday, I buried my uncle. My uncle's name was Ibrahim. He got killed the day before yesterday, I think when they said there will be a truce for 72 hours. My uncle is died, his wife is died and two sons have died. The others were injured.

HARRIS: This war began as an air war, rockets from Gaza to Israel and Israeli airstrikes on Gaza. Both rockets and airstrikes continue today and could keep this war going, even if Israeli ground troops redeploy. Emily Harris, NPR News, Gaza. 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.