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Cease-fire negotiations between Israel and Hamas appear to have broken down

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Today, Israel is observing Holocaust Remembrance Day. Here's how it sounded.

(SOUNDBITE OF SIRENS BLARING)

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Sirens blared across the country. Traffic stopped on highways. And Israelis stood for two minutes of reflection. The annual event is taking place in the middle of a war. Israel is fighting Hamas in Gaza, and its military has sent more signals that it is about to attack Rafah, the city where Palestinian civilians have fled the fighting elsewhere.

INSKEEP: NPR's Lauren Frayer is in Tel Aviv and covering the story. Lauren, welcome.

LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: Thanks for having me, Steve.

INSKEEP: We've heard talk about Rafah for a very long time. So what indications do you have of action now?

FRAYER: Well, today, Israel's military began dropping leaflets over Rafah, sending out text and voice messages and posting maps on social media with arrows showing people where to flee the eastern periphery of Rafah. This is what Israel said it would do - evacuate civilians before any ground incursion into Rafah.

Now, the United States and the United Nations have tried to discourage Israel from attacking Rafah because this is where nearly a million and a half people - basically half of Gaza's population - has sought refuge. But the Israeli defense minister called U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin overnight to tell him, basically, Israel is going ahead anyway.

INSKEEP: Israel has said there are Hamas battalions that are hiding in that very crowded city. And I guess we should note Israel is talking about sending in ground troops. Haven't they already been attacking Rafah from the air?

FRAYER: For months, yes. And these people in Rafah are also struggling with shortages of food, water, medicine. The head of the UN's World Food Programme, Cindy McCain, was asked about conditions in Gaza on NBC's "Meet The Press" yesterday. And here's how she described it.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CINDY MCCAIN: It's hard. It's so hard to look at, and it's so hard to hear also. I'm so hoping that we can get a cease-fire and begin to feed these people, especially in the north.

FRAYER: She says full-blown famine is already happening in the north of Gaza and spreading south to areas where we're seeing evacuation orders today.

INSKEEP: We heard Cindy McCain mention a cease-fire. Weren't there talks underway, until very recently, intended to produce a cease-fire?

FRAYER: Yes. And they fell apart last night. Over the weekend, Hamas sent a team to Cairo for talks. Israel did not send a team but was working through mediators from Egypt and Qatar. Participants say the CIA director was there. Israel and Hamas have both issued statements blaming the other. But basically, the impasse seems to be over whether a cease-fire would have been temporary or permanent, whether Israeli troops would withdraw from Gaza altogether.

But within hours of the breakdown of those talks, Hamas said it fired rockets at Israeli troops amassing on Gaza's border. But Israel says those rockets hit a border crossing where humanitarian aid goes into Gaza. Incidentally, this is a border crossing that Secretary of State Antony Blinken was actually visiting when he was in the region here last week. Now Israel says it's had to close that crossing because of the violence. So this means less food, water, medicine reaching those people who desperately need it.

INSKEEP: Got to ask about another bit of news from over the weekend or a shutdown of news from over the weekend - Qatar, you mentioned, one of the mediators in those talks, also has a very influential TV station, Al Jazeera. And Israel is pushing it out of the country.

FRAYER: That's right. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has long accused Al Jazeera of being a mouthpiece for Hamas. Yesterday, his cabinet voted unanimously to shut down Al Jazeera inside Israel. Israeli cable network severed the signal last night. I've actually just tried to access aljazeera.com from here in Tel Aviv while we're talking. I cannot, though some of the channel's social media is still working. But press freedom groups are very upset. The Foreign Press Association here says Israel has joined a, quote, "dubious club of authoritarian governments now."

INSKEEP: There'll be much more debate about that. NPR's Lauren Frayer in Tel Aviv. Thanks so much.

FRAYER: Thanks, Steve. 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.
Lauren Frayer covers India for NPR News. In June 2018, she opened a new NPR bureau in India's biggest city, its financial center, and the heart of Bollywood—Mumbai.