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Israel PM Netanyahu announces second phase of war against Hamas

SCOTT DETROW, HOST:

Israel's prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, says the war in Gaza has entered a new phase, and the war will not end until Hamas is destroyed. The Israeli leader made his remarks the day after Israel expanded its military operations by sending ground troops into the northern part of Gaza. NPR's Greg Myre was following the prime minister's remarks in Tel Aviv and joins us now. Hey, Greg.

GREG MYRE, BYLINE: Hey, Scott.

DETROW: So it sounds like Prime Minister Netanyahu is trying to prepare Israelis for what's coming next. What was his message?

MYRE: So Netanyahu warned Israelis that the war was going to be, as he said, long and difficult. He even called it Israel's second war of independence, the first being a 1948 war that erupted when Israel declared statehood and fought several Arab states. Now, the prime minister hasn't been saying a lot publicly, and there was a sense he needed to explain where the military operation was going. Since the Hamas attack on October 7, Israel has waged three weeks of airstrikes, but now they've sent ground forces into Gaza, and they kept them there overnight, though it still appears to be a limited force at this point.

DETROW: Does this mean an invasion is beginning?

MYRE: So Netanyahu did not use the word invasion, and he did not say how many ground troops might go in. Still, Israel now has a troop presence inside Gaza. We just don't know if that number will remain relatively small or if it'll become a much larger force, and therefore, really, a full-fledged invasion.

DETROW: Any sense yet how this message is being received in Israel, even though Netanyahu really just finished speaking a few hours ago?

MYRE: So he made this nationwide TV address alongside two key members of his so-called war cabinet. All of them were wearing black shirts, and they echoed each other's remarks about this being a long war and the need for Israelis to have patience. One of them, Benny Gantz, said the Israeli leadership would not conduct this war on a timetable. He also said the government would resist outside pressure. It's already facing that pressure due to a bombing campaign that's killed thousands of Palestinian civilians. He said, quote, "we are going to listen to our friends, but we have to do what's right for us."

And then when journalists got to ask questions, they kept pressing Netanyahu on whether he would accept responsibility for that Hamas massacre. Netanyahu called it a horrible failure but said it would have to be investigated after the war. And in general, Scott, it's fair to say Israelis are united behind the war effort, but a lot of blame is being directed at Netanyahu.

DETROW: So there are troops going into Gaza at this point that we still don't know how many, how widespread that is. But Hamas is still holding more than 200 hostages. Any sense whether this new phase endangers them?

MYRE: Yeah. This is going to be a huge challenge. Hamas leaders and the hostages are both believed to be deep underground in this network of tunnels the group has built under Gaza. So rescuing the hostages looks to be a monumental task. We should note there are behind-the-scenes negotiations still ongoing, so that they may not have to be rescued. They could be negotiated to freedom. But Netanyahu is really facing pressure from relatives of the hostages. In fact, a group of them met with Netanyahu and his war cabinet just before he made his speech on TV. The group said that the government shouldn't take action that endangers the hostages.

DETROW: What is the latest on the conditions inside Gaza as far as we can tell at this moment?

MYRE: Yeah. We know that Israel continued with its heavy bombing today, but details are sparse because Gaza has a near-total communications blackout. Cellphones and the internet went down right around the time of the Israeli ground invasion Friday night. So there's certainly a widespread suspicion that Israel is responsible, but it is not commenting.

DETROW: That is NPR's Greg Myre. Greg, thank you so much.

MYRE: Sure thing, 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.

Greg Myre is a national security correspondent with a focus on the intelligence community, a position that follows his many years as a foreign correspondent covering conflicts around the globe.