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As Israel-Hamas war approaches grim milestone, fears of widening conflict

SCOTT DETROW, HOST:

The civilian toll in Gaza is rapidly approaching another gruesome milestone as Israel's war against Hamas grinds on. Nearly 25,000 people have now died, according to the Ministry of Health in Gaza, the majority of whom are women and children. Meanwhile, there are growing fears that the conflict could widen throughout the region following a strike in Syria earlier today that killed several Iranian military advisers.

Joining me to discuss the latest from Tel Aviv is NPR's Geoff Brumfiel. Hey, Geoff.

GEOFF BRUMFIEL, BYLINE: Hi there, Scott.

DETROW: So we'll get to that strike in a minute. But first, what is the latest from Gaza?

BRUMFIEL: Yeah, it's been another bloody week of fighting in Gaza, where the Israeli military continues to battle Hamas. That fight began in October after Hamas attacked Israel, killing 1,200 people. And, you know, Israel says its goal is to eradicate the organization. According to Gaza's Ministry of Health, around 150 people are dying each day in the conflict as a result of direct military action by Israel, and the Israeli military announced the deaths of eight more soldiers this week.

DETROW: So active fighting still going on. Many people have moved to the south of the strip to try and stay safe. How are things looking there?

BRUMFIEL: Not good. You not good at all. There are around 1.7 million residents who've been forced into tents and other temporary living situations down there. And the United Nations says things are getting worse for them as well. They're crammed together. They don't have access to clean water, and that means diseases like hepatitis A are on the rise. And they're hungry. Hundreds of thousands of people in Gaza are at risk of famine. That's all, according to the U.N. agency responsible for Gaza. Our producer Anas Baba is in Gaza, and he spoke today with Numan Kabaja (ph), a 30-year-old father of five, and here's what he had to say.

NUMAN KABAJA: (Non-English language spoken).

BRUMFIEL: He says, my children are hungry and my wife is hungry. We're all hungry, and our relatives have been killed. And our brothers have been killed. Enough. We are tired. We are tired. Now, there has been some good news in recent days. Gaza's internet and cellphone service appears to be back after an outage of more than a week. That's thanks to telecom workers still in the strip who have gone into combat zones to make repairs. And NPR has also been told that Israel plans to allow a significant amount of flour to enter Gaza in coming days, but there's a long way to go before things turn a corner.

DETROW: So that's Gaza, where the fighting is happening, and many, many people are being killed. Beyond the Gaza Strip, what else is going on that we need to know about?

BRUMFIEL: Well, here in Tel Aviv, there was a big protest calling for new elections. That's because President Benjamin Netanyahu is becoming increasingly unpopular as this war drags on. And just now, he may have managed to strain relations with President Biden, too. In a post on social media on the platform X just a few hours ago, he rejected the idea of a Palestinian state. That, of course, is central to Biden's plans for the region.

And then we have these airstrikes in Syria. This morning, an attack on an apartment building in Damascus killed five members of Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps. Iran blamed Israel for the strike. The Israeli military declined to comment, but this comes just weeks after an Iranian missile struck what it claimed to be an Israeli intelligence post in Iraq.

DETROW: Right. And this has all led to fears that the war in Gaza could grow into a wider regional conflict. Is this another sign that it is, in fact, moving in that direction?

BRUMFIEL: I spoke to Ali Vaez. He's the director of the Iran Project at the International Crisis Group, and he told me this was a really significant strike because so many members of the Revolutionary Guard were killed.

ALI VAEZ: It is really starting to escalate and could spiral out of control at any moment.

BRUMFIEL: And in fact, there's just been reports of an attack on an Iraqi airbase where American troops are stationed. Rockets or missiles were fired towards the base. There appear to be some U.S. troops wounded, an official tells NPR. We don't know yet who was behind it. But the same base has been attacked multiple times since the outbreak of the war in Gaza, and it was struck by Iran back in 2020.

DETROW: Alright - something to keep an eye on. That's NPR's Geoff Brumfiel in Tel Aviv. Thank you so much.

BRUMFIEL: Thank you, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Geoff Brumfiel works as a senior editor and correspondent on NPR's science desk. His editing duties include science and space, while his reporting focuses on the intersection of science and national security.