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Calls for a cease-fire in Israel-Hamas war, or at least a humanitarian pause, grow

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

The death toll is climbing in Gaza as the Israeli military wages war on militants who are dug into civilian centers. According to the Ministry of Health in Gaza, more than 10,000 have died in Israel's retaliatory strikes against Hamas. The ministry says most of the dead are civilians and more than 4,000 are children. Calls for a cease-fire are mounting, but even proposals for a humanitarian pause are being rejected by the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Here to talk about Israel's options, we've called on former U.S. ambassador to NATO Ivo Daalder. Ambassador, before we even get to the possibility of either a cease-fire or humanitarian pause, can you briefly define the difference between the two?

IVO DAALDER: Yes, A, good morning. A cease-fire is really meant to stop the fighting and to move from fighting to negotiations, or at least disengagement of forces, in order to end the military phase of the conflict. A pause is designed to have a temporary stop in the fighting to allow something else to happen. And we've already seen a couple of pauses in at least the Israeli fighting when hostages - the four hostages that have been released were moving out of Gaza and back into Israel. So one is temporary and designed to achieve something that's happening on the ground. The other is designed to be permanent and to end the military phase of the conflict.

MARTÍNEZ: Why do you think Israel is so opposed to the idea of even a brief pause?

DAALDER: Well, they are very, very worried that Hamas will exploit anything that is happening on the ground to the benefit of Hamas. It's one of the reasons it's been so hard to get humanitarian assistance in. Israel doesn't want any fuel because they fear the fuel that might be meant for generators at hospitals will actually be diverted to Hamas to allow it to fight Israel in response to Israel's incursion into Gaza. So even pauses don't make sense. But a cease-fire, which the U.S. also does not support, would mean that the military phase of the conflict is over. And Israel still has, as its goal, the dismantling of Hamas, which has not yet been achieved.

MARTÍNEZ: Now, in its October 7 attack on Israel, Hamas fighters captured more than 200 Israeli civilians and foreign nationals. If, Ambassador, the Israeli government won't consider a cease-fire or a pause until those hostages are returned, how does that square with the international conventions of war?

DAALDER: Well, it's hard to square that. It's not impossible. Israel will insist and is insisting that it is using force in a proportionate manner, designed to only target those who are direct combatants in the fight. And it says that doing so is consistent with the laws of war. At the same time, the collateral damage, as the military people call it but what really means the killing of many others who are not combatants, who are civilians, that results from the kind of strikes that Israel has been conducting is extraordinary and indeed leading to the calls of a cease-fire and this push by the Biden administration to say, you need to really find a way to allow the war to be fought in a more discriminate way that does not necessarily affect all of these civilians, which is truly a horrific occurrence of this war.

MARTÍNEZ: That is veteran diplomat Ivo Daalder, a former U.S. ambassador to NATO, also president of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. Ambassador, thanks.

DAALDER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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