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Another aid route is opened to Gaza as Israel stays on high alert for an Iran attack

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Israel is on high alert for a possible attack from Iran. Iran has threatened to retaliate for an airstrike last week on its embassy compound in Syria. This afternoon President Biden remarked that he expects that attack to come, quote, "sooner than later." A U.S. defense official tells NPR additional assets are being moved into the region. Meanwhile, in northern Gaza, where famine is looming, Israel's military has opened a new aid route. NPR's Rob Schmitz joins us from Tel Aviv with an update on all this. Hi, Rob.

ROB SCHMITZ, BYLINE: Hey, Ari.

SHAPIRO: There are a few different threads here. So let's start with the threat from Iran. What do you know about the nature of it and how Israel is preparing?

SCHMITZ: Well, an Israeli official tells NPR that Israel is on alert for a potential strike from Iran in the next 24 to 48 hours. This official also told us that Israel's security cabinet has met in a special meeting to go over its defense strategy in response to this threat. We've also learned that Iran has put its ballistic missiles on standby and its air defenses on high alert. This week Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Iran that if it struck inside of Israel - that it could expect swift retaliation inside of Iran.

SHAPIRO: We are obviously talking about hypotheticals here, but if there were a major attack on Israel, where would that put the U.S.?

SCHMITZ: Well, President Biden has stated that, despite recent friction with Israel over the humanitarian crisis in Gaza - that American support for Israel in the face of a potential Iranian attack is what he called ironclad. And today U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin told Israeli Minister of Defense Yoav Gallant that Israel could count on what he called full U.S. support to defend Israel against a potential attack. The U.S. dispatched its top military commander for the Middle East, General Michael Kurilla, to Israel yesterday, and he will be discussing this threat with his Israeli counterparts. Meanwhile, the U.S. embassy has asked its diplomatic staff to not leave Israel's biggest cities, and several European countries have issued warnings to their citizens to leave Israel and Iran in the face of this threat.

SHAPIRO: Well, we will obviously continue watching that. I also want to turn your attention now to Gaza. USAID Director Samantha Power told American lawmakers this week that a famine is underway. As I mentioned, Israel has also opened a new aid entry point into the region. Tell us about that.

SCHMITZ: Yeah. Israel's military says it's opened a new aid crossing into northern Gaza and that the first trucks with humanitarian aid and food entered this new crossing yesterday. This comes a week after President Biden told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over the phone that U.S. policy on Israel will be determined by whether Israel takes a, quote, "series of specific, concrete and measurable steps" to address, No. 1, the civilian deaths in Gaza from Israeli strikes and, No. 2, the humanitarian suffering, chief among that the unfolding famine that hundreds of thousands of Palestinians are now potentially facing. So today's news that Israel has opened a new aid route into the hardest-hit parts of northern Gaza shows that this meeting may have produced results.

SHAPIRO: We just heard yesterday on this program that the war in Gaza appears to be entering a less violent, lower-intensity phase as more aid comes in. But now it also looks like Israel is increasing its airstrikes again. So what's going on?

SCHMITZ: Yeah. Israel removed most of its ground troops from Khan Younis in southern Gaza earlier this week, but it now appears that they're ratcheting up airstrikes in northern and central Gaza. Israeli airstrikes last night and this morning killed at least 28 people in Gaza City, among those several members of four families in a single building, according to a civil defense emergency response group affiliated with Hamas rule in Gaza. We're also seeing reports that a journalist with Turkish radio and television was injured in an attack in central Gaza.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Rob Schmitz in Tel Aviv. Thanks, Rob.

SCHMITZ: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF HIPPIE SABOTAGE SONG, "OM") 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.

Rob Schmitz is NPR's international correspondent based in Berlin, where he covers the human stories of a vast region reckoning with its past while it tries to guide the world toward a brighter future. From his base in the heart of Europe, Schmitz has covered Germany's levelheaded management of the COVID-19 pandemic, the rise of right-wing nationalist politics in Poland and creeping Chinese government influence inside the Czech Republic.