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A new effort begins in Egypt to work out a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Israel is approaching a choice. It's negotiating toward a cease-fire in its war with Hamas in Gaza. It is also preparing to extend its ground invasion into the very last city in Gaza.

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

President Biden is hoping for option one - the cease-fire.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: The United States is working on a hostage deal between Israel and Hamas, which would bring an immediate and sustained period of calm to Gaza for at least six weeks.

FADEL: Israel's prime minister, though, is promising to invade Rafah - the border city that's a last refuge for many, many Palestinians. And it's raising concern among Israel's neighbors that Palestinians will be forced out of Gaza, which has prompted warnings of dramatic consequences.

INSKEEP: NPR's Greg Myre joins us from Tel Aviv. Hey there, Greg.

GREG MYRE, BYLINE: Hi, Steve.

INSKEEP: OK, so there are these cease-fire talks in Cairo. What are you watching for?

MYRE: Well, these discussions are expected to focus on a cease-fire of up to six weeks or so, as well as another exchange of Israeli hostages and Palestinian prisoners. Now, Hamas wants this to be stage one of a longer cease-fire - one that would lead to an end of the war and an Israeli withdrawal from Gaza. Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu has rejected these Hamas demands. But Israel is willing to negotiate because it badly wants to free the more than 130 hostages still held by Hamas. And just a note of caution - a deal at this stage would probably be an interim cease-fire, not an end to the war.

INSKEEP: Nonetheless, more of a cease-fire than exists now - so who's at the table?

MYRE: Yeah, the key point here is Hamas is not expected to be at the table today in Cairo. Hamas does talk to Egypt. It had a delegation there recently, but it doesn't look like it's going to be there today. And it points to how complicated these cease-fire negotiations are because Israel and Hamas don't talk to each other. So today in Cairo, Israel, the U.S., the Egyptians and Qatar will try to come up with a plan, and then it would have to be sent to Hamas for its review. And the other interesting note here is that the talks are being carried out by intelligence chiefs. CIA director Bill Burns is expected to be present, along with the head of the Israeli intelligence agency, Mossad, and the head of Egyptian intelligence.

INSKEEP: Wow, that's really interesting. You mentioned all the countries involved. Let me bring in one more. Jordan, whose king, Abdullah, was in Washington, speaking with President Biden.

MYRE: Yeah. He made a very clear call for Israel not to launch a ground offensive in Rafah. As we've mentioned here, Rafah is the town at the southern end of Gaza. It's become this massive, sprawling tent city with displaced Palestinians. Here's King Abdullah.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KING ABDULLAH II BIN AL-HUSSEIN: We cannot afford an Israeli attack on Rafah. It is certain to produce another humanitarian catastrophe. The situation is already unbearable for over a million people who have been pushed into Rafah since the war started.

MYRE: So he's summarizing a position of many Arab and Western leaders. And in fact, Egypt has even threatened to suspend its peace treaty with Israel if it goes into Rafah.

INSKEEP: Greg, on that last point, you're talking there about the Camp David Accords - the very first peace agreement between Israel and an Arab nation way back in the '70s - and the Egyptians are saying we may suspend this. What makes the Egyptians so concerned?

MYRE: Well, the Egyptians may be doing a little posturing here, but they've often kept their border closed. They're very fearful of Gaza's turmoil spilling over or a big flood of refugees into Egypt. Also, they don't like Hamas. They're not big fans of Hamas either. So that's why these talks are so critical. If they reach a ceasefire, it could prevent this heavy fighting in Rafah and perhaps ease the humanitarian crisis a bit.

INSKEEP: NPR's Greg Myre - thanks so much. Really appreciate it.

MYRE: Sure thing, Steve. 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.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Greg Myre is a national security correspondent with a focus on the intelligence community, a position that follows his many years as a foreign correspondent covering conflicts around the globe.