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Workers from Gaza in the West Bank are desperately awaiting news from home

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu confirmed Israel's troops are on the ground in Gaza, saying in a televized statement that Israeli forces had begun a, quote, "long and difficult war." This comes three weeks after the Hamas attack that Israel says killed 1,400 people. Since then, Gaza health officials say Israeli attacks on Gaza have killed more than 8,000 people. And as Israel's military operation intensifies, the humanitarian crisis in Gaza is getting worse. The war is also raising tensions throughout the region. NPR's Elissa Nadworny is in Nahariya in northern Israel and joins us now. Hi, Elissa.

ELISSA NADWORNY, BYLINE: Hi, Ayesha.

RASCOE: What's happening with Israeli troops in Gaza?

NADWORNY: So Israel is continuing to expand its war against Hamas militants there. On Friday, the military sent a small number of ground forces into Gaza, and Israeli troops remained on the ground there yesterday, making that the first extended presence of Israeli troops in the territory since the war started. Footage released by the Israeli military appeared to show tanks entering along the beach on Gaza's north end. The prime minister was also really careful with his wording in his press conference yesterday. He called this the second stage of the campaign, so he avoided calling it this ground invasion. You know, the other thing at play here is the hostage situation. So nearly 230 hostages continue to be held by Hamas. Netanyahu met yesterday with families of the hostages for nearly two hours, saying he's going to bring them back, but it may take some time.

RASCOE: And in Gaza, nearly all communication went down Friday evening. Have you been able to reach people there?

NADWORNY: Yeah. There was a near-total blackout in Gaza for about 24 hours. Palestinians widely suspected Israel intentionally cut the network. Israel has considerable control over Palestinian communications systems and has refused to comment. You know, there's since been a partial restoration of cell service, but our team, like so many others, have lost connection with a lot of the people that we've been keeping in contact with in Gaza. And, Ayesha, the situation there is extremely dire. I've been talking with people for the last week about this. I talked with a doctor. You know, his hospital doesn't have water to wash his hands. It doesn't have electricity. He's doing surgery using the light from his cell phone. People don't have food. They don't have water. They don't have fuel. You can't shower. You can't flush the toilet. But yesterday, after about 24 hours without hearing from him, our producer in Gaza, Anas Baba, was able to find a connection. And he sent us a message.

ANAS BABA, BYLINE: We don't know what exactly is happening or where. We are totally cut off from the outside world. Every single person in Gaza, especially the one that you know - relatives, friends, family - are unreachable.

NADWORNY: You know, Baba took a huge risk just to get cell service to update us. And his messages were brief. You know, in his last message, he said there was artillery fire nearby, and he had to go. He would try and be in touch with us again as soon as he could. This is the story we're hearing from so many people with loved ones inside Gaza. We went to the West Bank yesterday to Jericho to talk to workers who are from Gaza. We met a man named Basel Israin (ph). He told us about the last message he'd gotten from his son.

BASEL ISRAIN: I will be safe. He told me everything is OK until now. But now I don't know what's happened. Just mind (ph) - what's happened? What's happened? What's happened? Maybe, maybe, maybe. I don't know.

RASCOE: You said you spoke with workers from Gaza, but in the West Bank. Like, what is the situation there?

NADWORNY: So Israel gives out a certain number of work permits to people from Gaza, more than 18,000 of them. Many of them work here in Israel in retail, restaurants, construction. And after the attacks on October 7, those permits were revoked. So thousands of workers have since gone missing and are thought to have been arrested by Israeli police. Others made it to the West Bank in Jericho, where we were yesterday. There are about 1,500 workers from Gaza living in camps and setups. They can't go back. The one that we visited yesterday was a military university, where about 400 people are staying in dorm-style rooms. So, you know, some of the rooms are sleeping more than 30 men. And, you know, they don't have any work. They have nothing to do. They can't go home. And so they're just scrolling their phones, you know, searching for news from Gaza.

RASCOE: And so when you were in the West Bank, what was the mood?

NADWORNY: Well, it was very tense. I mean, Israel has carried out several raids in the West Bank. They've made arrests. People are watching what's happening in Gaza very, very closely. We talked with Yusra Sweiti. She's the acting governor of Jericho.

YUSRA SWEITI: People in West Bank, they have families in Gaza, cousins, daughters. What happen in Gaza affect us very closely.

NADWORNY: She and others have said, you know, they're really worried about what's happening in Gaza because they're afraid the same thing could happen in the West Bank.

RASCOE: And, Elissa, we're reaching you in northern Israel. That's another possible front where tensions are rising.

NADWORNY: That's right. I'm in Nahariya. It's about 6 miles from the border with Lebanon. And it's here where clashes between Israeli forces and Iran-backed Hezbollah have been intensifying. Israel has ordered tens of thousands of people to evacuate from cities in the north out of safety concerns. We've been visiting hospitals up here where they're moving their entire operations - trauma centers, exam rooms, delivery rooms - underground into bunkers. They're getting ready if this conflict expands.

RASCOE: That's NPR's Elissa Nadworny in northern Israel. Thank you so much for your reporting. And please stay safe.

NADWORNY: Thanks, Ayesha. 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.

Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.
Elissa Nadworny reports on all things college for NPR, following big stories like unprecedented enrollment declines, college affordability, the student debt crisis and workforce training. During the 2020-2021 academic year, she traveled to dozens of campuses to document what it was like to reopen during the coronavirus pandemic. Her work has won several awards including a 2020 Gracie Award for a story about student parents in college, a 2018 James Beard Award for a story about the Chinese-American population in the Mississippi Delta and a 2017 Edward R. Murrow Award for excellence in innovation.
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