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Negotiators in Cairo aim to strike a deal for a cease-fire in the war in Gaza


Vice President Kamala Harris called for an immediate cease-fire between Israel and Hamas.


KAMALA HARRIS: Let's get a cease-fire. Let's reunite the hostages with their families, and let's provide immediate relief to the people of Gaza.


Harris' phrasing in a speech in Selma, Ala., repeatedly drew applause. Many Democratic voters have objected to the Biden administration's support for Israel's offensive in Gaza. The vice president pressed Israel to deliver more aid and pressed Hamas to accept the pause in fighting to end inhumane conditions for civilians. The U.S. has been trying for a temporary cease-fire for weeks.

MARTIN: NPR's Daniel Estrin is in Tel Aviv to tell us more. Good morning, Daniel.

DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: Good morning, Michel.

MARTIN: Could you just start by telling us, what's the holdup on reaching a cease-fire? We were under the impression that this was close.

ESTRIN: Well, Israel and Hamas both agreed to the basics of this deal, which would be a six-week cease-fire, an exchange of some of the Israeli hostages in Gaza for Palestinian prisoners and getting more aid into Gaza. But we have been speaking with Israeli and Egyptian sources close to the talks. And one of the main sticking points now is that Israel wants to know how many hostages are still alive. They want to know how many Palestinian prisoners Hamas is willing to accept in exchange. Israel is not sending negotiators to these talks in Cairo until it gets answers.

Now, Hamas also has its own demands. It wants Palestinians to be able to return to north Gaza, where fighting is mostly over, and they also want trailer homes brought in to Gaza, since so many homes have been destroyed in Israeli bombings. But this is just the first phase of a grand deal being negotiated. It's the foundation for every other phase needed to eventually reach the end of the war.

MARTIN: Now, we just heard Vice President Harris call for an immediate cease-fire. And you heard that it got a lot of applause. But she also said, for at least six weeks. Is this really a new position?

ESTRIN: I think publicly it's a more urgent plea from the United States. But all along, the U.S. has wanted to start with six weeks and then try to extend this cease-fire. And it's very tricky because Israel wants kind of the opposite. It wants to launch a final major battle in the city of Rafah in Gaza against Hamas battalions there. It's also where more than a million Palestinians are sheltering. And so behind the scenes, the U.S. has been trying and hoping that during this six-week cease-fire, they can avert a Rafah operation and reach some other arrangement.

And the U.S. has other plans. It wants to use this six-week cease-fire to set in motion grand plans like, you know, Saudi-Israeli diplomatic ties and other questions about the future of Gaza. One other significant thing that the U.S. has done is it's hosting Israeli war cabinet minister Benny Gantz in Washington today, which has upset Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. But, you know, polls are showing that Gantz would win if there were elections today. And it's a strong signal, I think, that the U.S. is looking at the post-war future, and that future may not involve Netanyahu.

MARTIN: Before we let you go, Daniel, the U.S. also conducted airdrops of food into Gaza over the weekend. What does that tell us?

ESTRIN: Well, it tells us what we've been hearing from the United Nations - extreme hunger in Gaza. At least 10 children, they say, died from dehydration and malnutrition. The U.S. wants to show it's doing something. You know, Air Force cargo planes dropped food packages. But Palestinians say these airdrops are humiliating. And it's not a solution. And all of this chaos about aid just shows that there's an intense pressure to reach a cease-fire deal.

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

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.