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Israeli leaders warn that there could be a war to its north in Lebanon

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Israeli leaders are warning that there could now be a war to its north in Lebanon. There have been near-daily rocket attacks from Lebanese militias with Israeli attacks in return. This comes as Israel's offensive continues in Gaza, nearly three months after Hamas attacked Israel on October 7. NPR's Jason DeRose is following these developments from Tel Aviv. Hi, Jason.

JASON DEROSE, BYLINE: Hello.

SHAPIRO: What is the concern on the Israel-Lebanon border? What's happening there right now?

DEROSE: Well, the head of the Israeli military says troops were, quote, "in very high readiness" for expanded fighting to the north. Member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's war Cabinet, Benny Gantz, said yesterday the military could move to push militants away from the border if diplomacy and pressure don't work, and that time is running out. Ari, the last couple of days have seen a significant increase in the rocket attacks from Hezbollah. That's the Lebanese militia that has a lot of heavy weapons compared to Hamas. Those rockets result in those air raid sirens going off and activating the defense system called Iron Dome to shoot them down. And this has been going on for weeks. Tens of thousands have been evacuated on both sides of the border. Also, Hamas is still firing rockets into Israel from the south. And all of that is keeping many people here on near-constant edge.

SHAPIRO: I want to turn to an airstrike at the Maghazi refugee camp in Gaza that happened over the weekend. Israel addressed that strike today. Tell us what they've said.

DEROSE: Well, that's one of the deadliest single instances since Israel began these strikes. The Associated Press had a reporter near there who saw the hospital records showing 106 killed. The Israeli military says that on December 24, fighter jets attacked two nearby targets where a number of Hamas operatives were believed to be located. It says before the attack, it took steps to reduce the harm to those not involved. The military today says in a statement that a preliminary investigation shows that during the operation, additional buildings adjacent to the targets were damaged, and it says the investigation continues into how this happened, that it regrets the harm caused to civilians and that it's working to draw lessons from the incident. As a reminder, Ari, Gaza health officials say the death toll there has surpassed 21,000 people now. That's mostly women and children.

SHAPIRO: All right. Let's pivot now from Gaza to the West Bank, where Israel arrested people, it says, to stop them from sending money to Hamas. What more can you tell us about that?

DEROSE: Well, Israel's Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, says five money-changing companies in the Israeli-occupied West Bank have been named as terrorist organizations. He says the offices transferred money to Hamas and the group Palestinian Islamic Jihad. After the defense minister signed the order declaring them terrorist organizations, Israeli forces raided nine currency exchange branches in the West Bank, according to Gallant. He says authorities confiscated the equivalent of nearly $2.8 million. Gallant says security forces also arrested 21 Palestinians suspected of transferring funds to Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

SHAPIRO: And what do the money exchanges say to those allegations?

DEROSE: Well, some have denied they have anything to do with Hamas. Here's Mahmoud Ajjuly, the nephew of the owner of one of the money exchanges who was arrested in the city of Al-Bireh in the West Bank.

MAHMOUD AJJULY: (Speaking Arabic).

DEROSE: Ajjuly says he knows that his uncle, Anwar Ajjuly, was arrested, but that's the only thing he knows. Now, the Palestinian Authority's Monetary Commission issued a statement saying that raiding the money changers is illegal, that those shops aren't under the jurisdiction of the Israeli government.

SHAPIRO: And finally, will you just update us on the humanitarian situation in Gaza, which becomes more dire each day?

DEROSE: Ari, there are so many problems in Gaza - water, fuel, communications, medical care. But let's focus on food right now. The U.N.'s World Food Programme says the scale, speed and severity of the food insecurity in Gaza is unprecedented. Because food is so scarce, the U.N. has activated its Famine Review Committee. It's warning that the risk of famine increases every day because of the intense fighting and the lack of humanitarian access. And it's important to remember that prior to October 7, about 500 supply trucks brought food and medicine and fuel into Gaza each day. Now - and Gaza has more than 2 million people. And on many days, only about 100 or so trucks are getting in with those badly needed supplies - food, water and medicine.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Jason DeRose in Tel Aviv. Thank you.

DEROSE: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Jason DeRose
Jason DeRose is the Western Bureau Chief for NPR News, based at NPR West in Culver City. He edits news coverage from Member station reporters and freelancers in California, Washington, Oregon, Nevada, Alaska and Hawaii. DeRose also edits coverage of religion and LGBTQ issues for the National Desk.