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Israeli military has had its deadliest single incident so far in the war in Gaza

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

The Israeli military has seen its deadliest single incident so far in its war in Gaza. This morning, it confirmed the deaths of 21 soldiers near Israel's border with the Palestinian enclave.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Now, with those 21 deaths, the death count for Israel's current offensive is more than 200 soldiers. Gaza's ministry of health says more than 25,000 Palestinians have been killed since the war began, both militants and civilians. This comes at a time when Israeli forces are pushing into a section of Gaza that is crowded with displaced people who are trying to avoid the fighting.

MARTÍNEZ: Let's bring in NPR's Geoff Brumfiel in Tel Aviv. Geoff, 21 soldiers dead. What can you tell us about what happened to them?

GEOFF BRUMFIEL, BYLINE: Well, we don't have all the details yet, but here's what we know right now. This all happened quite close to the Israeli border with Gaza, and there appear to have been two related events. An Israeli tank was struck by a missile. And then nearby, two buildings that Israeli soldiers had rigged for demolition collapsed. Now, it's unclear whether the buildings were struck by enemy fire or whether there was an accident with the explosives. Either way, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the incident a disaster and is saying there'll be an investigation.

MARTÍNEZ: OK. Now, all this comes when Israeli forces are conducting a major offensive in Gaza. How's that going?

BRUMFIEL: Yeah, Israeli special forces and other troops are pushing into Khan Younis, a city in southern Gaza that the military describes as a home to some of Hamas' toughest fighters. But Khan Younis is also home to many, many tens of thousands of civilians who fled northern Gaza when Israel began its ground offensive. They're living in makeshift tents which barely protect them from the elements, let alone gunfire.

I heard from John Kahler, a pediatrician in southern Gaza with the group MedGlobal. He told me civilians are fleeing again as the Israeli army closes in.

JOHN KAHLER: The IDF forces are there. The civilians are moving along the roads out. It's a mass evacuation.

BRUMFIEL: Now, there are also reports that facilities operated by the United Nations and the Palestinian Red Crescent were struck overnight. But it's difficult to get details because there's a communications blackout. It's unclear whether the telecom system is being disrupted by Israeli forces or whether fighting has cut the line. Either way, it's very difficult to know what's happening right now.

MARTÍNEZ: Is there any chance at all for maybe a pause or an end to the fighting?

BRUMFIEL: You know, the Israeli military has said in the near term that they actually expect fighting in Khan Younis to intensify as they try and reach their goal of eradicating Hamas and freeing the hostages taken on October 7. But this military campaign is facing increasing pressure from within Israel, and a lot of that pressure is coming from the hostages' families. They want another cease-fire that will allow their loved ones to go free.

I spoke to a mother of a hostage. Her name was Anit Ohel. And she said it's taking too long to get her son home.

ANIT OHEL: As a mother, I'm not a politician. For me, for a mother, every day is too much time.

BRUMFIEL: And other families are starting to apply real pressure to the government. They've set up protest camps outside Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's homes in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. And yesterday, they stormed the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, demanding action. Now, partially in response to this pressure, the Israeli government has reportedly floated a deal that would see hostages released in exchange for a prolonged cease-fire, but NPR hasn't been able to confirm that deal is on the table. And even if it is, it remains to be seen whether Hamas would accept it.

MARTÍNEZ: That's NPR's Geoff Brumfiel in Tel Aviv. Geoff, thanks.

BRUMFIEL: Thank you. 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.

A Martínez
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
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.

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