There are some positive signs in the effort toward an Israel-Hamas ceasefire
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
There are some positive signs in the effort to work out an Israel-Hamas cease-fire. After a week without a response from Hamas, the group now says it views the cease-fire proposal in a positive spirit. This comes as U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is crisscrossing the region, trying to get everyone on the same page. NPR's Greg Myre joins us with the latest from Tel Aviv. Hey, Greg.
GREG MYRE, BYLINE: Hi, Ari.
SHAPIRO: What more can you tell us about the Hamas response?
MYRE: So it does have this positive tone, and the group expressed its general position without giving details. Now Hamas wants an extended cease-fire. We're talking several weeks or more, and it's pushing for a permanent end to the war and a withdrawal of Israeli troops from Gaza. It also wants the release of a large number of Palestinian prisoners held by Israel, which is holding thousands of them. And Hamas, in addition, wants a substantial increase in the aid flowing into Gaza.
SHAPIRO: How does that compare to Israel's stance?
MYRE: Well, there are some differences. Israel appears open to a temporary cease-fire but probably not for as long as Hamas seeks. Israel's concern is that if it halts military operations in Gaza for an extended period, it may be hard to start up again. And Israel flat-out rejects the notion it should pull its troops out of Gaza at this stage. Now, Hamas is holding 136 Israelis, and the Israeli government is under a lot of domestic pressure to get as many freed as soon as it can. Now, realistically, in the near term, the Israelis could perhaps get back some civilians being held by Hamas. But it's highly unlikely Hamas will hand over Israeli soldiers at this stage.
SHAPIRO: What about Secretary of State Blinken? What is he saying about prospects for a deal?
MYRE: Right. So he's been going all over the region the past couple days. He was in Qatar today. Qatar is very significant. It's helped put together this cease-fire proposal. And here's what Blinken had to say in the Qatari capital, Doha.
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ANTONY BLINKEN: The best path forward, the most effective path forward right now to get an extended period of calm and to work toward an end to the conflict is through an agreement on the hostages. And that's what we're intensely focused on.
MYRE: So Blinken is spending tonight in Israel, and he meets with Israeli leaders Wednesday. And this should really give us a better sense of how close or how far apart Israel and Hamas are. And we should just note that negotiating with Hamas is a cumbersome process. Hamas has leaders in exile and leaders in Gaza who are hiding in the tunnels. So it takes days for the collective Hamas leadership to come up with a unified response. And therefore, working out the details is going to take time, even if it works out at all.
SHAPIRO: And finally, what's the state of the fighting in Gaza?
MYRE: Yeah, Ari. The main battleground continues to be in and around the southern Gaza city of Khan Younis. Israel says it's effectively defeated Hamas there, and it's a real Hamas stronghold. But some small groups of Hamas fighters are still putting up some fairly significant resistance. Now, Israel says it's already planning to launch a ground operation several miles further to the south in Rafah. This is the town at the southern end of Gaza on the border with Egypt. And Israeli troops, as they've advanced north to south in Gaza, have pushed more than a million Palestinian civilians, and they've all been squeezed into this area in and around Rafah. So if the Israelis do carry out a big operation, it certainly raises the prospect of extremely high casualties. And it adds an urgency to these efforts to reach a cease-fire.
SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Greg Myre in Tel Aviv. Thank you.
MYRE: Sure thing, Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.
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