STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
And we're also reporting on violence on the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip. The attacks stretched the weekend into today. Israeli airstrikes killed three more people today in Gaza - that Palestinian-held area - bringing the total to 21.
As Israelis have been bombing, Palestinians have been firing rockets into Israel. And NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro is following this story.
And Lourdes, what's the latest?
LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, BYLINE: Well, this morning, Steve, we've seen more sortees by Israeli aircraft and multiple strikes inside the Gaza Strip. Medical officials in Gaza confirm two men were killed so far today.
Well, this morning, Steve, we've seen more sorties by Israeli aircraft and multiple strikes inside the Gaza Strip. The Israelis say they were targeting a team preparing rockets to fire into Israel. Overnight there were rockets that were successfully fired and landed inside Israel. In fact, over 50 rockets were fired in total yesterday. For a second day today, Israeli schools have been closed in the area around Gaza and people are staying close to shelters. Around one million people lie within reach of those Gaza rockets. Inside Gaza, you can hear the sound of Israeli jets circling overhead. There are 1.6 million Palestinians who live there in densely populated areas. We already know that two civilians were killed in airstrikes yesterday - a young boy and an old man.
INSKEEP: There have been rocket firings, many, many of them over the years, along that border. What caused an escalation here?
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, this current flare-up began when Israel targeted and killed the leader of one of the main militant groups in Gaza. Israel said he was planning an attack on Israeli civilians in the Sinai - that's the desert area in the south of the country - similar to the one that took place last August in which eight Israelis were killed. Armed group inside Gaza, and we're not talking about Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip here - they have been observing a ceasefire with Israel. But armed groups began firing rockets in retaliation and the situation has deteriorated from there.
INSKEEP: I suppose there's something there that calls for an explanation. Hamas is the group that controls the Gaza Strip, or at least controls the political machinery, but you're saying that, at least according to them, there are armed groups with which they have nothing to do that are targeting Israel from Gaza territory.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, Hamas is in control of the Gaza Strip and Israel says that anything that happens inside the Gaza Strip, because it controls it, is their responsibility. But these armed groups do not necessarily belong to them. One of them is Islamic Jihad and the other one is the Popular Resistance Committees. And these are armed groups that are dedicated to armed resistance to Israel and they have not observed a ceasefire with Israel, which Hamas has been observing since the Gaza war.
INSKEEP: How have the Israelis managed to avoid more casualties from all these rockets that have been fired across the way?
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, one of the reasons we've seen so few fatalities is because of the Israeli missile defense system that they have in place. It's called Iron Dome, and this is the first time it's been used on this scale. And it is what the press here is calling a game changer. Essentially Iron Dome tracks and then destroys incoming projectiles that are deemed a threat, and it's done that very, very successfully up until now. Essentially, analysts say, Iron Dome has managed to protect the civilian Israeli population, so there have been no fatalities in Israel despite over 100 rockets being fired.
INSKEEP: OK. So no fatalities in Israel; quite a few of them on the Gaza side at this point. Is anyone talking seriously about a ceasefire?
GARCIA-NAVARRO: We know that Egypt is desperately trying to broker one - that's been confirmed. But for example, the Israeli defense minister, Ehud Barak, this morning said that the operation in Gaza will continue for as long as it has to and warned that it could be lengthy. For its part, the militant group Hamas, which hasn't been involved in the current hostilities, has said that if Israel continues to hit at the Gaza Strip, it may have to get its military wing involved and that would be a serious escalation in the current fighting. So far it doesn't look like Israel is planning a ground incursion into Gaza as it did during the Gaza war, but this looks like it will continue at least for a few more days, if not longer.
INSKEEP: That's NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro in Jerusalem. Lourdes, thanks very much.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.