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As Israel-Hamas war reaches 9 months, cease-fire talks in Gaza appear set to resume

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

A Middle East analyst was on NPR the other day and some analysis of Hamas, the group that's fighting Israel in Gaza. The analyst said Hamas is just not that into a cease-fire. The group has pursued a strategy of trying to draw Israel into a quagmire, which arguably is already happening. Israel's Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu has also been reluctant to publicly endorse cease-fire proposals, even when they seem to come from his own government. But now there is a sign of some movement. NPR's Greg Myre is following this from Tel Aviv. Hey there, Greg.

GREG MYRE, BYLINE: Hi, Steve.

INSKEEP: Has something changed about what terms Hamas might accept?

MYRE: Seems so. The core demands of Hamas are a permanent end to the fighting in Gaza and a full withdrawal of all Israeli troops. But now Hamas appears willing to accept a more gradual approach. It's not dropping these demands, but it looks like it won't insist on them upfront at the beginning or early stages of a cease-fire. Now, NPR is hearing this from Egyptian officials close to the talks. The Israeli media and many Arab outlets are reporting the same. So the talks are resuming in Cairo, and we also expect them to be held in Qatar in the coming days.

INSKEEP: Are they talking on the basis of this cease-fire proposal that President Biden outlined some weeks ago?

MYRE: Yes, they are. And the first phase calls for a six-week cease-fire and an exchange of Israeli hostages and Palestinian detainees. Now, both sides seem supportive of these general principles and have good reason to do so. Gaza is in tatters. Sunday marked nine months since the war began. The civilians in Gaza desperately need a breather and more aid to come in. In Israel, demonstrators held nationwide protests Sunday, part of ongoing marches, calling for a cease-fire to bring back at least some of the 120 Israeli hostages. So both sides could get some tangible things they want in this first phase of the deal.

INSKEEP: What would happen in later phases?

MYRE: Well, that's when you start to run into some irreconcilable positions. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu put out a statement Sunday saying Israel retains the right to resume fighting until it achieves its objectives. And for him, that means defeating Hamas politically and militarily. And he also said he expects Israel to have an extended army presence in Gaza. So even if we get some progress or a deal for this initial six-week cease-fire, you can see the same obstacles emerging as they look to a more permanent deal to end the war. And meanwhile, the daily fighting in Gaza just carries on

INSKEEP: Well, let's be specific about that. I know you pay close attention. What is happening there now?

MYRE: Yeah, Steve, something really jumped out at me over the weekend. You know, the Israeli military recently took a small group of journalists into Rafah. That's the city on Gaza's southern border with Egypt. Now, NPR wasn't among them, but we do have access to the shared video footage. And the Israeli invasion in Rafah directed at Hamas has turned that city into a scene of utter devastation - buildings reduced to rubble, the streets are all chewed up. And - and this is what was striking - there's an absence of Palestinians in Rafah. The journalists spent about three hours there, and - so they didn't see everything, but they didn't see a single Palestinian. The U.N. said recently that Rafah's population peaked at about 1.4 million earlier this year, and now it's down to about 50,000 as people have fled, seeking shelter elsewhere. So this is a city that was just bursting at the seams with all these tent camps a few months ago. Now it's mostly empty.

INSKEEP: This is really profound, Greg, because we were told it was impossible for people to move out of there. It sounds like virtually all people have moved out of there. And I guess we should also note that means this is an enormous number of people who've been forced in many cases to relocate, again, not for the first time.

MYRE: Oh, absolutely. And on their own. There wasn't any organized way for them to move. So they found a way out, but they say they're still getting hit and bombed by Israel in other places where they're seeking shelter.

INSKEEP: Greg, thanks for the insights, as always.

MYRE: Sure thing, Steve.

INSKEEP: NPR's Greg Myre in Tel Aviv.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) 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.

Greg Myre is a national security correspondent with a focus on the intelligence community, a position that follows his many years as a foreign correspondent covering conflicts around the globe.
Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.

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