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Deal is in the works to release Israeli hostages and for a pause in fighting in Gaza


Now, all of these regional attacks are connected, at least rhetorically, to the Israeli war against Hamas. And now in that war, a deal is in the works to release Israeli hostages Hamas is holding in Gaza in exchange for a pause in the fighting.


The thing is, though, Israel says there are still differences between the sides on what the deal should look like nearly four months into the war. And the humanitarian crisis in Gaza keeps getting worse. And now the U.S. and other countries are suspending their funding to the U.N.'s main humanitarian agency in Gaza.

INSKEEP: NPR's Daniel Estrin is following all of this from Tel Aviv. Hi there, Daniel.

DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: How does it even work when they're trying to figure out some kind of agreement between Israel and Hamas?

ESTRIN: Well, the CIA chief is involved, William Burns, also Israel's top intel chiefs, top officials from Qatar and Egypt, who are the main mediators between Israel and Hamas. They all have been meeting in Paris. And an Egyptian source with direct knowledge of the talks spoke to NPR. They're trying to strike a deal for a prolonged pause in fighting and to exchange Israeli hostages for Palestinian prisoners. This would be similar to an exchange in late November, where about half of the Israeli hostages were released in exchange for Palestinian detainees. And this deal is going to be done - if it does come through, it would be done in phases over several months.

And then in parallel, there are other talks about trying to allow Palestinians who fled their homes to return to north Gaza, talks about the future Palestinian leadership as well. But the main sticking point here, Steve, is about the end of the war. Hamas wants this deal to lead to the end of the war. And Israel is OK with a significant pause in fighting, but not the permanent end in fighting. And you have to understand the domestic politics in Israel. Israel's leadership is under a lot of pressure from its hard-right flank. Senior ministers even took part in an event yesterday for resettling Gazans outside Gaza and moving Israeli settlers into Gaza. And there have been Israeli activists blocking aid trucks to Gaza in recent days. So it just shows these - hard-line domestic pressure on the Israeli government about Gaza. But the government in Israel says these talks were constructive so far. Still significant gaps and more talks to be held this week.

INSKEEP: With all that, I'm listening closely to what you're saying. The last pause in fighting was a few days, but you're saying prolonged, several months. This could be a big deal, even if it's not a formal end to the war.

ESTRIN: That's right. And then there's this whole other crisis, which is the United Nations humanitarian agency. Israel has presented evidence that 12 Palestinian employees for the U.N. in Gaza were directly involved in the Hamas attack that started this whole war on October 7. And so, the U.S., the U.K., other countries have suspended aid to that agency. The U.N. has fired staff who faced those allegations. But now the U.N. is calling for countries like the U.S. to renew the funding to the U.N. We're talking about the U.N. agency that that provides services for most Gazans now who are in desperate need of food and shelter. These are allegations Israel had against 12 employees out of the 13,000 who work for the U.N. in Gaza. The odds are, I think, that the U.S. will resume funding to this agency.

INSKEEP: How much worse are things getting in Gaza?

ESTRIN: There is heavy fighting in the city of Khan Younis, near two main hospitals there.

ESTRIN: Doctors Without Borders says one of the hospitals is now nearly unable to perform surgeries. We spoke with Nebal Farsakh, a spokeswoman of the Palestine Red Crescent Society, a main medical organization. We spoke about another hospital in the area, Al-Amal Hospital.

NEBAL FARSAKH: The situation there is catastrophic. There is ongoing bombardments that is happening day and night, along with gunfire. The medical teams are working in horrific and dangerous conditions.

ESTRIN: And the Israeli military has called on Palestinians to evacuate this area, but we're seeing more and more Palestinians evacuate further south, just adding to the masses of displaced people in this last sliver of territory in Gaza that Israeli troops have not invaded.

INSKEEP: NPR's Daniel Estrin, thanks so much.

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.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Daniel Estrin is NPR's international correspondent in Jerusalem.