Hamas Mulls Egypt's Cease-Fire Proposal

Israel says it has accepted a cease-fire proposal put forward by Egypt to end hostilities with Hamas in the Gaza Strip. What's still not clear are the intentions of Hamas.

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

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And I'm Renee Montagne. Israel says its military operations in Gaza are back on after a cease-fire proposed by Egypt fell through. Israel says it agreed to the cease-fire for several hours, but that ended when rockets from Gaza were unrelenting. A short time ago, NPR reached a top Hamas official. He said Hamas leaders were negotiating among themselves about what to do and said to call back, as he put it, in a couple of days. We're joined now on the line by NPR's Emily Harris who is in Gaza. And Emily, start by telling us how real was this cease-fire in the first place?

EMILY HARRIS, BYLINE: Well, there was never an agreement for a cease-fire. There was a proposal for a cease-fire that came out of the Egyptian Foreign Ministry pretty late last night, local time. After that, the top political leader of Hamas in Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh, went on television and gave a speech, and he says that he wasn't opposed to the cease-fire in principal, referencing the 2012 cease-fire - the last time Israel and Hamas had this kind of confrontation. But he said what was important for Hamas was to change the living conditions for people in Gaza, and in that speech, he suggested that the military wing, al-Qassam, and the political wing would be doing their work in separate paths. This morning at nine o'clock, Israel's cabinet met and decided they would accept a cease-fire. The terms - the suggestion by the Egyptians was quit fighting and come over here into Cairo and talk for a bit. And Israel stopped launching attacks in Gaza as of 9 a.m. local time. They say - the Israeli military says they resumed them later this afternoon, although we did hear quite a large boom in the morning that sounded like an airstrike - about mid-morning after nine o'clock. And Hamas says one of the reasons that they never - that they have not signed on to this is also that they were not consulted.

MONTAGNE: And also, Hamas had expressed that it didn't - that it wanted something for a cease-fire. That is it. It wanted something to make up for the fact that there'd been all this violence and all these deaths in Gaza.

HARRIS: That's right. Hamas wants something out of this cease-fire. What they are talking about wanting is a change to the daily life in Gaza. Since Hamas took power in Gaza - the Gaza Strip in 2007 after a very violent and bloody fight with the rival Palestinians back in (unintelligible). Ever since then, Israel has restricted travel in and out of the Gaza Strip and restricted what commercial goods come in and out of the Gaza Strip. One thing that's been especially restricted is construction materials, which can have a dual use - military or civilian use - but it makes it very difficult for the Gazan economy to build homes - to build anything like that if cement's not allowed in. What happened over most of this time was tunnels from Egypt - smuggling tunnels were dug - and things came through that way - cement, food, cigarettes, cheap gasoline - weapons, as well. But with the new government in Egypt, they closed down that line of access to goods and they closed down the border crossing for people to cross into Egypt. So over the last year, slowly, Gaza has gotten more in a stranglehold and Hamas says that now what they want before they're willing to stop firing rockets is guarantees that Israel will make changes that will allow Gazans to have, as they put it, a more normal life.

MONTAGNE: Well, a more normal life would include some sort of structure politically. Hamas's hold on power - what? - it's not exactly sure at this moment in time?

HARRIS: It's very uncertain. Hamas has formally, actually, stepped out of government here about a month ago after we had an agreement with the rival Palestinian party in the West Bank that's headed by Mahmoud Abbas, the head of the Palestinian Authority government there. They reached an agreement on a government. Hamas left all the offices - the ministries here in Gaza. They, obviously, remain in control of the security situation here and the weapons here. But who is going to be in charge of Gaza after this ends is very unclear - whether Mahmoud Abbas can step in and actually have some kind of unification between the West Bank and Gaza. There are some voices in Israel that suggest Israel should take over again. They withdrew in 2005. Hamas may not be interested in governing anymore. The future here is pretty unclear.

MONTAGNE: Emily, thank you very much.

HARRIS: Thanks Renee.

MONTAGNE: That's NPR's Emily Harris speaking to us from Gaza City.

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