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Push For Diplomatic Solution In Gaza Ramps Up


This is MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer.


And I'm Renee Montagne.

Even as talk grows louder about a possible truce, intense air assaults went back and forth over the Israeli and Gaza border today. More Palestinians were killed overnight, pushing the death toll for days of fighting to over 100 for Palestinians and three Israelis.

Still, the push for a diplomatic solution is ramping up. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrives in the region today. And in Cairo, Egypt's new Islamist leadership is now serving as a mediator between the Israelis and Gaza's Hamas-led government.

NPR's Leila Fadel is in Cairo.

Good morning.

LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: Good morning.

MONTAGNE: So tell us what each side wants, and if there is much sign of progress toward a deal between the two sides, now that there's so much talk of a deal.

FADEL: Well, basically, the two sides really want very different guarantees in order for the ceasefire or a truce deal to be met. Hamas is saying there can be no deal unless the Gaza blockade is lifted. The 1.7 million people that live in the Gaza Strip have been living under a blockade for years now. And the Israelis are saying: We're not going to agree to a ceasefire until the rockets stop.

So - and both sides are asking for completely different things, but Egyptian officials that we've spoken to here in Cairo are expressing hope, or they're saying they're encouraging signs that a deal is near. But it's really unclear what has actually been agreed upon, especially since the head of Hamas, yesterday - Khaled Meshaal - said that the only way they'll agree to any ceasefire deal is an immediate lifting to the blockade and the end to the assassinations of their leaders by Israeli forces. And this is something that Israel has been unwilling to do.

MONTAGNE: And today, a delegation of Arab foreign ministers is headed to the Gaza Strip. What's the significance of that trip?

FADEL: Well, the interesting thing about the Israeli offensive and, really, a punishing Israeli offensive in the Gaza Strip this time, versus four years ago in 2008, is that the Arab world is backing Hamas in a way that they never have in the past - at least vocally. As soon as this conflict began, we saw the prime minister of Egypt go to Gaza and now a delegation of Arab foreign ministers go to Gaza to show solidarity with the Palestinians and Hamas. A lot of Arab leaders in the past were hesitant to engage with Hamas. A lot of those leaders were Western-friendly dictators that no longer are in power.

MONTAGNE: Well, as you've just suggested, the regional reaction may be changing regarding Gaza. But how are these newly elected Arab governments dealing with popular sentiment in their own countries?

FADEL: This is a really heated issue in the Arab world. Many residents in many of these countries feel sympathy with the Palestinians, feel sympathy with the images that they're seeing coming out Gaza of really so many civilians being killed during this offensive. And they're turning to their governments and saying stand up for them.

So, for the first time, the Arab public sentiment actually matters due to these Arab revolts that swept through the region over the last two years. And because of that, Arab governments feel they have to answer to their people. At the same time, these governments still want a relationship with the United States and have to still cater to their Western allies and - in Egypt, at least - the peace treaty that's signed with Israel.

MONTAGNE: And just funny, as we mentioned this morning, the White House announced Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will be travelling to Jerusalem and meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. What could come of that?

FADEL: At this point, it's really unclear. Here, obviously, all of this diplomatic wrangling is to bring an end of the violence immediately. You have many Palestinians feeling they're hostage to the violence that's going on right now. And so it's in everybody's interest that this ends, because it could be a very destabilizing thing for the region. I assume that in those talks, there will be discussion of how to get to a ceasefire. Israel has talked about a ground invasion, and that's something that really, internationally, people don't want.

At the same time, most people are waiting for the U.S. to really calm the situation. Egyptian officials here say it's on the shoulders of the United States to get Israel to cease violence on their side, that the only person that can really influence Israel in a major way is the United States. So I think everybody's watching for what the outcome of that trip may be.

MONTAGNE: Leila, thanks very much.

FADEL: Thank you.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Leila Fadel, speaking to us from Cairo. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Renee Montagne
Renee Montagne, one of the best-known names in public radio, is a special correspondent and host for NPR News.
Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.

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