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Israeli officials are in D.C. amid talk that tactics in Gaza may threaten U.S. aid

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Israel's defense minister is in the U.S. today at a moment of tension between the two allies. They don't agree about what should happen next in Israel's war in Gaza.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The United States is pushing for a cease-fire and for Israel to allow more humanitarian aid to Palestinians who face famine. Now, if it sounds repetitive when we say that, that's because it is. The United States has been asking for the same things for weeks now. Israel says it is not done dismantling the militant group Hamas.

FADEL: NPR's Jennifer Ludden joins us now from Tel Aviv with the latest. Good morning, Jennifer.

JENNIFER LUDDEN, BYLINE: Hello.

FADEL: Hi. So what should we expect from the Israeli defense minister's visit here in D.C.?

LUDDEN: So a big focus is going to be the southern Gaza town of Rafah. You have more than a million displaced Palestinians crowded in there. The U.S. says invading would be a huge mistake. And it specifically invited Israelis to Washington to talk about alternative options. But Israel says it cannot defeat Hamas without going into Rafah. And it's going to attack whether the U.S. approves or not. Also before boarding his flight, Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said he's going to bring up U.S. military aid and helping Israel keep its, quote, "qualitative edge." This has become controversial. You now have some Democrats arguing that Israel's actions in Gaza may disqualify it from U.S. military aid.

FADEL: Yeah. I mean, Senator Chris Coons, who's close to President Biden, was on the program last week and he said it would be, quote, "almost impossible" to attack Rafah in a way that was acceptable to the U.S. So the delegation will discuss that. But what's happening away from Rafah in other parts of Gaza?

LUDDEN: So for a week now, Israel says it has been battling hundreds of militants who have regrouped at the main hospital in northern Gaza, Al-Shifa. Again, Israel says Hamas is embedding itself in a civilian population there. It's also raided two other hospitals over the weekend. It claims there were weapons stockpiled. This has left thousands of patients, doctors, civilians sheltering in these hospitals caught in this fighting. Gaza's health ministry says some have died from fire, smoke or shelling, and it's just adding to an incredibly dire humanitarian crisis. Amber Alayyan is an American physician with Doctors Without Borders. She and others say there's no longer supplies to treat the many wounded. Here's what she told our colleague Michele Kelemen.

AMBER ALAYYAN: The patients who have survived thus far are increasingly getting sicker. They're getting more infections. Their wounds are getting infected. They're literally rotting.

FADEL: I mean, what she describes on top of the widespread hunger - we're seeing images of people eating grass to stave off that hunger. And so many international groups and governments are pushing Israel to allow more humanitarian aid, especially food, into Gaza. Any progress there?

LUDDEN: You know, mostly we've seen a lot of frustration and trading blame. Over the weekend, the secretary general of the United Nations actually went to the border with Gaza to highlight this crisis. Antonio Guterres accused Israel of holding up aid trucks. He said Palestinians are stuck in a nonstop nightmare and that the extreme hunger is just shocking. Now, on Sunday, Israel did say 103 aid trucks had entered Gaza. But keep in mind, before this whole crisis, there were 500 aid trucks a day going in. And so it's a massive drop when it's needed most. And the latest U.N. numbers show it keeps going down. Less food aid got in in February than did in January.

FADEL: Now, what's happening with any possible deal in these discussions that were going on in Qatar? Do we know where they stand?

LUDDEN: Just in brief, you know, the focus is freeing up some of the 130 Israeli hostages still in Gaza. But a hang-up is whether Hamas can get a permanent cease-fire. Israel, of course, says it can't do that. It still intends to battle Hamas in Rafah.

FADEL: NPR's Jennifer Ludden in Tel Aviv. Thank you, Jennifer.

LUDDEN: 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.

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.
Jennifer Ludden helps edit energy and environment stories for NPR's National Desk, working with NPR staffers and a team of public radio reporters across the country. They track the shift to clean energy, state and federal policy moves, and how people and communities are coping with the mounting impacts of climate change.

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