The fragile cease-fire between Israel and Hamas has entered its 6th day
LEILA FADEL, HOST:
The fragile pause in the fighting between Israel and Hamas is in its sixth day, with more hostages and prisoner exchanges expected today. The original four-day cease-fire that began on Friday was extended by two days to allow those additional releases. That extension ends today unless another is approved by both sides. The humanitarian crisis in Gaza remains dire, and NPR's Brian Mann joins us from Tel Aviv to discuss all this. Hi, Brian.
BRIAN MANN, BYLINE: Hi, Leila.
FADEL: So tell us more about the Israelis and Palestinians who returned yesterday and about today's planned releases.
MANN: So 10 more Israelis and two foreign hostages taken in the October 7 attack were released by Hamas. Three of the 10 Israelis were members of one family. In exchange, Israel freed 30 Palestinian prisoners. Officials in Qatar who helped negotiate the swap said 15 of those freed were women, 15 others were minors. Now, if this truce holds, we expect more people on both sides to come home later today.
FADEL: So as we mentioned, this extension ends tonight. Do we know anything about the likelihood of this pause being extended in any way?
MANN: Well, people are scrambling to make that happen. High-level talks are underway. Israeli media reports a deal is close. U.S. officials told NPR CIA Director William Burns has been in Qatar for more high-level meetings with Israel. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is also going to be visiting the Middle East this week. While Israel has signaled an openness to a longer pause in exchange for more freed hostages, it's important to say Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has insisted that Israel plans to resume the fighting and crush Hamas when this temporary truce ends.
FADEL: Now, you were just on Israel's northern border with Lebanon where the Iran-backed Lebanese group Hezbollah is operating. What did you see there?
MANN: Things have been quieter since this truce with Hamas went into effect, Leila, but the military situation remains incredibly tense. I visited an Israeli army unit in a forward operating base right on the Lebanon border where they've been exchanging fire with Hezbollah, and I spoke with Max Sherman. He's a Jewish American college student from Tampa Bay, Fla., who's volunteering in the Israeli military during this crisis.
MAX SHERMAN: You know, at first when I was here it was a bit scary. You know, you'd be sitting drinking some tea and all of a sudden, missiles get shot at you and rockets are being thrown over. And anything that can happen in a second, basically.
MANN: Again, things have been quieter in recent days, but a lot of Israeli communities in the north have been evacuated because of the threat from Hezbollah. U.S. officials are scrambling to avoid a wider conflict beyond the war with Hamas in Gaza, but a lot of people I spoke to in the north told me they worry that war with Hezbollah is likely when the fighting with Hamas resumes as expected.
FADEL: What about the humanitarian situation in Gaza? I mean, it's so dire. I know aid groups are using this pause to rush food and supplies to Palestinian civilians trapped there. Is that enough?
MANN: Trucks and ambulances are moving faster across the border from Egypt, ramping up the relief operation. But, you know, there are 2 million Palestinians in Gaza, more than a million of them displaced. According to United Nations officials, Gaza's health care system has been destroyed by the fighting. I spoke to Dr. Margaret Harris with the World Health Organization who's helping with the release effort, and to get a sense of the scale of this crisis, Leila, she pointed to just one factor - the number of pregnant Palestinian women in Gaza who can't get any medical help.
MARGARET HARRIS: Two hundred babies a day are being born with no medical support, or they don't have adequate hygiene, they don't have adequate water.
MANN: And so Harris says civilian Palestinians in Gaza don't just need a few more days of peace, they need months and years. But again, right now, the cease-fire could end as early as midnight tonight.
FADEL: That's NPR's Brian Mann in Tel Aviv. Thanks, Brian.
MANN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.
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