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Kerry Claims Progress In Gaza Cease-Fire Talks


In the Gaza Strip, the death toll has risen to more than 690 Palestinians - that includes at least 230 women and children. At least 32 Israeli soldiers have been killed and three civilians in Israel have died from rockets or mortars fired from Gaza. Secretary of State John Kerry has been in the region trying to help broker a cease-fire. Today, he visited Israel and the West Bank. NPR's Michele Kelemen is traveling with him and we caught up with her during Kerry's busy schedule of meetings to find out if he's made any progress yet.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Well, it's hard to see yet. I mean, he claims he's making progress. He says he's, you know, been working the phones and has had back-to-back meetings in Israel, the West Bank and Cairo this week, including with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and to see what kind of deal the Israelis are ready to make to stop the fighting here. Kerry says that he's been making progress. He isn't making any predictions though about when a cease-fire could take hold. He says the idea is not just a cease-fire, but also looking forward to work on a sustainable way forward for everybody in how we deal with Gaza.

CORNISH: And so what are the kinds of proposals they're talking about?

KELEMEN: Well, there's a lot that he's trying to pull together, Audie. Israel wants a demilitarized Gaza, but it's hard to see how to get to that at this point. Hamas wants an end to the siege and an opening of border crossings, though a full opening of the crossings is a non-starter for the U.S., Israel and for Egypt, which borders Gaza. And Egypt is taking the lead diplomatically on the cease-fire proposals. So Kerry has a lot to juggle here. Add to that Qatar and Turkey, which have their own ideas on how to resolve this. Kerry told us that everything's going to be on the table when it comes to talks about Gaza's future, but that's only after there's a cease-fire.

CORNISH: Now, earlier today Secretary Kerry visited the Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank, but as we've heard many times on this program, Hamas and President Abbas are effectively rivals, not allies. So what can Kerry gain from talking with President Abbas?

KELEMEN: Well, I mean, the goal was simply to keep Mahmoud Abbas relevant here. You know, Kerry made the distinction that unlike Hamas, which continues to fire rockets into Israel, Abbas is committed to nonviolence. And as Kerry puts it - he understands that that's the road to a real solution. So the U.S. really wants to see Abbas and the Palestinian Authority play a role, especially in any negotiations over the future of Gaza, to make sure that the international community is not giving Hamas something in exchange for violence, but rather supporting Abbas, who's for nonviolence.

CORNISH: So Kerry met with Abbas and as we've mentioned, he also met with Israel's Prime Minister Netanyahu.

KELEMEN: That's right. And he also did some other things that were interesting during his day here. He had a visit with the family of Max Steinberg. He's an American who is in the Israeli army and was killed in Gaza - one of two Americans killed there. The secretary said that 30,000 people turned out for Steinberg's funeral today in Jerusalem. And he called that remarkable. He also met briefly on his way into his meeting with Benjamin Netanyahu at the IDF headquarters here in Tel Aviv with the mother of the Israeli American Naftali Frenkel. And he's one of the three teenagers who was killed last month. That incident and the apparent revenge killing of a Palestinian teenager set off this latest conflict. Frenkel's mother, who came to us in the press room, and she told Kerry that no parent should be going through what they're going through now. And she accused Hamas of using Palestinian children as human shields.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Michele Kelemen, speaking with us from Tel Aviv. Michele, thank you.

KELEMEN: Thank you, Audie. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.
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