Bernat Armangue / AP

TODAY   |  November 17, 2012

Israel targets Hamas symbols of power

NBC’s Martin Fletcher and Richard Engle report from Tel Aviv and Gaza, where violence is ramping up with Palestinians firing rockets into Israel and Israel’s military attacking Hamas symbols of power such as the prime minister’s office and police headquarters.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> we want to begin this half-hour with rising tensions in the middle east . we have two reports this morning from martin fletcher in tel aviv and richard engel in gaza . martin, tell us the latest.

>> reporter: lester, good morning. there's been an incredible ramping up of violence this morning. the israelis have already had 200 separate air strikes against palestinian targets in gaza . they've changed the kind of targets they're attacking, not just the rocket infrastructure they've seen in the last few days, but attacking hamas sim bols of power. they attacked the prime minister's office this morning, flattened it completely. that's the building where the prime minister met the egyptian foreign minister yesterday. that building now flattened. they also attacked the police headquarters, which is a huge building in the center of gaza . there was a huge blaze there. windows were smashed in buildings nearby. both attacks happened early in the morning , so the israelis at least say nobody was inside the buildings. other buildings were also attacked, police buildings, smuggling tunnels, and the palestinians have said this morning that ten palestinians were killed in these raids. that brings the number up to at least 40 palestinians killed over the last several days with violence. and at the same time, the palestinians have been firing rockets into israeli, 30 this morning, three soldiers have been said to be lightly injured, but that's the state of play at the moment and it just looks as if it's going to get worse all day.

>> martin fletcher , thanks. richard engel is in gaza . at first glance, you feel like we've seen this before. you were there in gaza four years ago. how has the view on the ground changed? how different are the players at how this particular conflict is playing out?

>> reporter: we have seen tit for tat violence between the palestinians here in gaza and the israelis before, many times before. but this time it feels very different. hamas officials are talking about it in very different terms because of the arab spring, because there are new leaders in tunisia and in egypt . in tunisia, the foreign minister was here in gaza today. hamas is an offshoot of the muslim brotherhood . the egyptian president is now from the muslim brotherhood . the prime minister is from the muslim brotherhood . hamas is counting on this arab solidarity, this new playing field to significantly change the balance of power between the hamas militants, who clearly don't have the kind of weapons that israel has, but they think now that they will have broader political support, not from just the new arab governments, but also from the newly empowered arab street .

>> how nervous is this making the united states , though? given the arab spring, given that tenuous support for pease by the muslim brotherhood , is israel being encouraged to show restraint in this case?

>> reporter: i think the united states is asking all parties to show restraint. the president, according to reports, has spoken with mohamed morsi. he's spoken to the israelis . it's in israel 's interest. it's in egypt 's interest. it's in the united states ' interest to tamp this down. it is not, however, in hamas 's interest. hamas 's entire strategy is to inspire the same kind of revolutionary spirit that brought down mubarak, that threatens to bring down other leaders, particularly in the gulf states , and to use that energy and rage and channel it against israel . it is the kind of unpredictable situation that egypt will have a tough time dealing with right now and it leaves the united states in a very difficult position. you remember, president obama said in that interview with telemundo that he wasn't sure egypt was really even a steadfast ally right now, he said it's not quite an enemy. right now when you have egyptian officials expressing such solidarity with hamas , it's clear to see why the united states had those doubts.

>> richard engel in gaza , thanks very much.