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Long-Term Cease-Fire Brings Halt To Fighting In Gaza


Israel and Hamas have agreed to another cease-fire. Israel says it received rocket fire from Gaza for a short time after the cease-fire was scheduled to begin, but overall things are quiet. Both sides have agreed to negotiate as part of the deal. And NPR's Emily Harris now joins us from Jerusalem.

Emily, we've seen many cease-fire deals and declarations over seven weeks of fighting. Is this one for real?

EMILY HARRIS, BYLINE: It does remain to be seen, Robert. But there are some key differences between this one and past agreements. One important one is that it's open-ended. There is no 72-hour deadline to talk or else the threat of going back to fighting hanging over both sides' heads. There is some agreement that border crossings will reopen for the movement of goods and people. But it's not clear whether this will be significantly different from the restrictions that were in place immediately before this conflict broke out.

Palestinian officials are saying they're expecting some differences immediately. One Israeli official characterized it to me as just going back to the status quo. And there were certainly a number of restrictions on trade and travel right before this conflict started. And this also encompasses the fishing zone - how far the Israeli Navy will allow Gazan fishermen to go out to sea.

SIEGEL: This was mediated by the Egyptians. They've been trying for quite a while. What brought about the deal now?

HARRIS: Well, Hamas is declaring victory, so it may - they are putting out the idea that they've won, and maybe this is the time to stop. In Israel there's been a debate about what would be a full victory. It's been seven weeks of fighting now. More than 2000 Palestinians have been killed. Almost 500 of them are children - 10,000 have been injured - hundreds of thousands have been displaced. In Israel the deaths have included over 60 soldiers, almost half a dozen civilians including, over the weekend, a four-year-old boy. It seems at this point, after many different interventions - not just by the Egyptians but by other international players as well - both sides apparently feel that they have something to gain at this point by stopping now. Some level of fatigue may also have set in.

SIEGEL: Now, as you said, this agreement is indefinite. It doesn't have a deadline on it now. Israel has been demanding the disarmament of Gaza. That's one of the tough issues. What are some other really difficult issues that they still have to deal with?

HARRIS: That is a top difficult issue, and that will be Israel's focus in the talks in Cairo - disarming Hamas, making sure they don't use the rockets that they still have, ensuring someway that trade can flow into Gaza without Hamas gaining the ability to either use cement to rebuild bunkers or get materials for arms. That's Israel's key focus.

From Hamas's perspective and other Palestinian factions as well, they want to really end these restrictions on trade and travel. They're talking about rebuilding Gaza's international airport, opening a seaport so that people in Gaza and companies in Gaza can be connected to the outside world.

SIEGEL: Well, if all goes well in this colossal process of rebuilding Gaza actually begins, first of all, who's going to pay for all that?

HARRIS: Well, the last time there was an Israeli-Hamas conflict that included a ground war was five years ago. That was also very destructive but on a smaller scale. And that time around the international community picked up much of the bill.

Egypt's Foreign Ministry mentioned that this deal for a cease-fire includes quick access through border crossings to relief supplies and quick achievement of what is needed for reconstruction. This is tricky because on the top of that list is cement. And a senior official Israeli official told me there are discussions about ways to get cement in for international aid projects, but that has happened in the past. There's a framework for that. The real question is commercial cement. And this official acknowledged that that is still an unresolved problem.

SIEGEL: Emily, thank you.

HARRIS: Thanks, Robert.

SIEGEL: That's NPR's Emily Harris in Jerusalem on the cease-fire agreed today between Israel and Hamas. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Prior to his retirement, Robert Siegel was the senior host of NPR's award-winning evening newsmagazine All Things Considered. With 40 years of experience working in radio news, Siegel hosted the country's most-listened-to, afternoon-drive-time news radio program and reported on stories and happenings all over the globe, and reported from a variety of locations across Europe, the Middle East, North Africa, and Asia. He signed off in his final broadcast of All Things Considered on January 5, 2018.
International Correspondent Emily Harris is based in Jerusalem as part of NPR's Mideast team. Her post covers news related to Israel, the West Bank and Gaza Strip. She began this role in March of 2013.