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2 initiatives in Gaza are on a collision course: possible cease-fire, Rafah offensive

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Two initiatives in Gaza are on a collision course.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Negotiators are inching toward a new temporary cease-fire with an exchange of Israelis held hostage by Hamas for Palestinians detained in Israel. Those are the elements of the deal. Despite American objections, Israel's military could launch a new offensive into crowded southern Gaza, where displaced Palestinians have been seeking refuge.

MARTIN: Now Israel's prime minister says even if there is a cease-fire, he will not call that off. He will only delay it. NPR's Daniel Estrin is in Tel Aviv to tell us more. Good morning, Daniel.

DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: Hi, Michel. Good morning.

MARTIN: So could you just start by telling us what we know about Israel's intentions for Rafah?

ESTRIN: Well, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is still insisting that Israel's next military objective is Rafah. This is the southernmost city in Gaza. And as Israeli troops have been sweeping from north Gaza to central Gaza to south Gaza, this is the last part of Gaza where Israeli troops have not yet entered. It's where Israel says most of the remaining Hamas battalions are left. And here is what Prime Minister Netanyahu said this weekend on CBS.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: Once we begin the Rafah operation, the intense phase of the fighting is weeks away from completion - not months, weeks away from completion.

ESTRIN: But the U.S. has been warning against this operation. This is an area where more than a million Palestinians have been sheltering. And so last night, the Israeli military presented plans to Israel's war cabinet, plans on how they will evacuate Palestinians from that area and their battle plans there as well. So all of this is is Israel signaling to the U.S. that, you know, despite the objections of its most important ally, Israel doesn't tend to move forward in Rafah.

MARTIN: Now, tell us more about that deal being negotiated. Where do the talks stand now, and what are the main points of agreement so far as we know?

ESTRIN: Well, we have heard from an Egyptian official close to the talks who spoke with NPR that the next stage of the negotiations are going to be held in Qatar. Israeli, Egyptian and U.S. intelligence officials will be meeting, and they're following up on a meeting held late last week in Paris. And they're working off of a basic framework here, which would be a six-week cease-fire and the release of some Israeli hostages, exchanging them for some Palestinian prisoners.

So the Israeli media are now reporting that what they're going to be working out are some of the details, like the number of Palestinian prisoners they're willing to release. Also, part of these talks we're hearing are discussions for a new technocratic Palestinian government to manage all of the Palestinian territories, Gaza and the West Bank, when the war is over. And to that end, the Palestinian Authority government submitted its own resignation today. There is this sense of urgency, Michel, to reach some big deal here for at least a temporary cease-fire before the Muslim holy month of Ramadan begins in just two weeks.

MARTIN: And, Daniel, finally, but certainly not least important, can we hear more about the conditions in Gaza? I mean, we're nearly five months into this, and there's been massive destruction, as we - as you've been reporting, elsewhere in Gaza. Tell us about conditions.

ESTRIN: Yeah. The United Nations is reporting significant food shortages and extreme hunger. The last time the U.N. was able to deliver food to northern Gaza was more than a month ago, and the Israeli cabinet discussed plans to try to get aid safely to northern Gaza. Part of the problem has been when aid enters from Egypt into Gaza, Palestinians have stolen aid from the trucks. It just shows that sense of desperation there. Israeli strikes continue. We could see a grim new milestone by the end of the week. It's approaching 30,000 Palestinians killed, according to Gaza health authorities.

MARTIN: That is NPR's Daniel Estrin in Tel Aviv. Daniel, thank you 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.

Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.
Daniel Estrin is NPR's international correspondent in Jerusalem.