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Gaza Returns Rockets For Israeli Airstrikes

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The conflict between Israel and the Gaza Strip continues to escalate after Israeli airstrikes flattened key targets in Gaza, and Palestinian rockets threatened deeper into Israel than ever before.

The death toll in Gaza doubled overnight to at least 39 people, NPR's Anthony Kuhn reports from Gaza City. Around 300 airstrikes overnight hit the Hamas prime minister's headquarters, a police compound and a vast network of smuggling tunnels, among other targets.

In turn, the AP reports, Palestinian militants have fired more than 100 rockets toward Israel, and three Israeli citizens have been reported killed. Attacks aimed at Tel Aviv and Jerusalem over the last couple days have raised the stakes in the conflict, as never before have rockets from Gaza been able to penetrate so far into Israeli territory.

For now, the Iron Dome system deployed by Israel is keeping Tel Aviv safe but nervous. Israel claims the system has shot down some 250 more rockets, most of them in southern Israel near Gaza. That hasn't tempered the leaders of Hamas, who are still very defiant, Kuhn told NPR's Scott Simon.

"They've had chances to try and work for a truce or cease-fire, but they are not ready to stop yet. They are, of course, jubilant that their missiles have hit deep in the Israeli heartland and they're also very encouraged on the diplomatic front by the visits of several Arab countries — recently including Qatar, yesterday was Egypt, today the Tunisian foreign minister was in town — all of them expressing solidarity with the Palestinians.

"However, there are Gazans who feel that if Hamas is betting on these countries supporting them militarily, then they're making a miscalculation."

The intensifying conflict poses a serious challenge for surrounding countries as the region struggles to re-establish relationships following the upheaval of the Arab Spring.

Egypt is leading attempts to broker a cease-fire, and representatives from Qatar and Turkey are also in Cairo hoping to find a resolution for the conflict. In an emergency meeting on Saturday, the Arab League endorsed Egypt's efforts and declared it will be sending a delegation to Gaza in the next couple days as a sign of support.

President Obama has been in touch with Egyptian and Turkish leaders, too, the AP says, though the White House is backing Israel's right to defend itself.

"Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are in agreement that a de-escalation of the violence is preferred, provided that Hamas stops sending rockets into Israel, deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes told reporters during the president's flight on Air Force One to Asia.

"Israel launched the offensive on Wednesday by assassinating Hamas' military commander, but Rhodes said the U.S. believes "the precipitating factor for the conflict was the rocket fire coming out of Gaza. We believe Israel has a right to defend itself, and they'll make their own decisions about the tactics they use in that regard."

Those tactics include the massing of thousands of troops, tanks and other military vehicles along the border, a signal that Israel may be considering a ground invasion.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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