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Kerry Awaits Response From Israel, Hamas On Proposed Cease-Fire


It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.


And I'm Renee Montagne. The holy month of Ramadan comes to an end early next week with the celebratory feast, Eid. And Secretary of State, John Kerry, is hoping for a holiday cease-fire in Gaza. He's proposed a seven-day truce and is waiting for a response from Israel and Hamas. NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson is in Jerusalem and joins us now for more. Good morning.


MONTAGNE: What are the outlines of Kerry's proposal?

NELSON: Well, things are rather murky yet, but the Israeli media have sort of been filling in the dots. They report that the deal allows Israeli troops to stay in place and continue their tunnel operations. But that is coming from Israeli media and is not confirmed.

MONTAGNE: Are there any more details from Israel or Hamas about this proposed cease-fire?

NELSON: Well, yes, the Israeli cabinet is meeting this morning to consider this. According again to Israeli radio, they would like to see a cease-fire of five days or so to include the Eid holiday which starts either Sunday or Monday, depending on the sighting of the moon. But what they want to do is keep Israeli troops in place. There seems to be some agreement to that, but it's - again, it's a little bit murky at the moment because it's still being negotiated or worked out.

If they kept the troops in place, they also want to continue with the tunnel destruction operations. This is a real concern for them. The Israeli army - and, in fact, I spoke to the Gaza division commander yesterday during a press conference, and he said about two dozen of these very complicated tunnels have been found going from Gaza into Israel. There have been some Hamas militants that were intercepted earlier in the week trying to come out of there and attack two communities, two kibbutzim, in southern Israel. They were stopped, but there was a - you know, a deadly firefight involved with that.

So Israel is very determined to continue destroying those turn tunnels. Now Hamas has not indicated whether they would accept the cease-fire, but their concerns have been that they don't want Israeli troops to be continuing their operations on tunnels or anything else. And they want the blockade ended. They want to have a little more freedom of movement than is allowed right now. And that's something that Israel is certainly not going to agree to because they've said that they don't want to give Hamas an opportunity to regroup.

MONTAGNE: So that's where it stands then on any kind of cease-fire. What is happening in Gaza?

NELSON: Well, the death toll has climbed to well above 800 people at this point. There were booms reported. Our correspondent, Emily Harris, spoke about shelling continuing this morning. There's still no acceptance of responsibility for the attack on the UN school yesterday. Rockets continue to be launched into Israel to some extent, although that seems to have slowed down somewhat. So it just isn't feeling very much like a cease-fire at the moment.

MONTAGNE: And Soraya, you have been on the West Bank these last few days. Of course, it's separated from Gaza by Israel, and it is not controlled by Hamas. But what's going on there?

NELSON: Well, it's been relatively quiet short of a general strike. And then last night, suddenly, there was a huge demonstration. Thousands - or up to tens of thousands - of marchers, depending on your source, started marching towards Jerusalem. And when they got to the Columbia checkpoint, which is where the Israeli forces have a wall up and where they check people coming in, there was a very rowdy protest.

According to Israeli troops, protesters were shooting at troops. And according to demonstrators, the troops started firing tear gas at the crowd. And what ended up happening is one demonstrator was killed by Israeli troops. The marches did not get into the western part of Jerusalem, but it was the largest protest since the second intifada about a decade ago. So it seems that the sentiment or the anger is really starting to boil here about what is happening in Gaza.

More violence is expected today, and the Israeli police are out in force. They're preventing residents - Arab residents from getting to neighborhoods that are even close to the old city where, of course, Al-Aqsa Mosque is. This is where Friday prayers take place. And they even prevented me, or guests from hotels in east Jerusalem, from getting there. So the mood is very tense. And the concern is that the violence is only going to grow as the operation in Gaza continues.

MONTAGNE: Soraya, thanks very much.

NELSON: You're welcome, Renee.

MONTAGNE: That's NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson speaking to us from Jerusalem. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Special correspondent Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson is based in Berlin. Her reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and read at NPR.org. From 2012 until 2018 Nelson was NPR's bureau chief in Berlin. She won the ICFJ 2017 Excellence in International Reporting Award for her work in Central and Eastern Europe, North Africa, the Middle East and Afghanistan.
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