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8 months into the Israel-Hamas war, the U.S. still aims to end the fighting

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Every few days, it seems, we come to you with an update on a possible cease-fire in Gaza.

ROB SCHMITZ, HOST:

Which is different from telling you of an actual cease-fire. Neither Israel nor Hamas have publicly agreed on a plan promoted by President Biden. Israel faces political complications. Hamas is demanding changes, according to Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ANTONY BLINKEN: Hamas has proposed numerous changes. Some of the changes are workable; some are not.

INSKEEP: So to summarize, the United States says Israel favors a plan that Israel has not publicly supported, and the plan resembles one Hamas previously proposed, yet there's no deal. NPR's Daniel Estrin is on the line from Tel Aviv. Hello, Daniel.

DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: Hi, Steve.

INSKEEP: What are the changes that Hamas wants?

ESTRIN: Well, Hamas officials tell us that their main demand here is a guaranteed end of the war. Now, both sides do agree to a six-week cease-fire at the beginning. There would be an initial exchange of hostages and Palestinian prisoners. It's the next phase of the deal here that is the sticking point - Israel says it won't guarantee the end of the war. It will only hold more talks to try to reach the end of the war, and the way Israel sees this is that it won't agree to end the war until it ensures that Hamas cannot continue governing Gaza. There are also - the Israeli far right in government doesn't want to end the war. The way Hamas sees this, on the other hand, is that it wants to prevent Israel from resuming the war the minute it gets hostages back from Gaza.

INSKEEP: Oh, it's been using the hostages all along to try to bring an end to the conflict. The details here seem to matter a lot, since so many thousands of people are being killed, so what are the other demands Hamas has made?

ESTRIN: Well, Antony Blinken, the Secretary of State, is not revealing the details, but an Egyptian security official tells NPR that Hamas is demanding a few main things - first, that Israel withdraw its forces from Gaza's border with Egypt in the first week of the cease-fire. That may be unacceptable to Israel. This is a border area that's a lifeline to Hamas, and, you know, whoever controls that border controls Gaza, so that's a big question that still needs to be worked out. Another demand of Hamas, according to a Hamas official who spoke with us, is that Hamas wants a say in which Palestinian prisoners Israel releases in this exchange - and Hamas might demand the most senior and high-profile Palestinian convicts, who are serving multiple life sentences for deadly attacks on Israelis, so that demand might be something that would be very hard for Israel to swallow.

INSKEEP: Thanks for the reminder that this is also a prisoner exchange - Hamas wants people back, as well. So how can the outside parties push this over the finish line?

ESTRIN: Well, Egypt and Qatar - they're main negotiators here. They want to meet with Hamas now to discuss its latest response. Israel has not sent negotiators to Egypt or Qatar yet, so the mediators know that these talks are in a very difficult stage. They're trying to save the talks, and they're trying to save the prospect of a cease-fire. Blinken has been saying that the onus is on Hamas here. That appears to be part of the negotiating tactics. I mean, the reality is that there are fundamental gaps. Hamas has a desire to end the war and survive the war. Israel wants to make sure Hamas does not survive the war, so that's the fundamental gap that negotiators are trying to bridge. Blinken was here in the Mid East for a few days. He says the U.S. is not only looking for a cease-fire, but is looking for something much bigger - a plan it hopes to present in the coming weeks for bigger questions like, who governs Gaza after the war? And I should just say here, Steve, there's another big pressure point - what's happening on the Israel-Lebanon border. Israel killed a senior Hezbollah official. More than 200 Hezbollah rockets rained down on northern Israel yesterday, and Blinken says the best way to prevent another war is to first reach a cease-fire in Gaza.

INSKEEP: NPR's Daniel Estrin is in Tel Aviv. Daniel, thanks so much.

ESTRIN: You're welcome. 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.

Daniel Estrin
Daniel Estrin is NPR's international correspondent in Jerusalem.
Steve Inskeep
Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
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