Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
Supported by

Why it's been a whirlwind 24 hours for people in Rafah

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

After seven months of war, and tens of thousands of deaths, a pause in the fighting in Gaza seemed to be in sight yesterday.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Sponsor Message

So it seemed, and in the city of Rafah, people celebrated...

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Chanting in non-English language).

INSKEEP: ...Were cheering, honking car horns, setting off firecrackers. Hamas announced it had just agreed to a cease-fire deal, and then Israel said the terms that Hamas claimed to have agreed to were not the terms that Israel put forth on the table. This morning, Israeli tanks are in Rafah and in control of Gaza's border crossing with Egypt.

MARTIN: NPR correspondent Aya Batrawy has been tracking these developments from Dubai, and she is with us now. Good morning, Aya.

AYA BATRAWY, BYLINE: Good morning, Michel.

Sponsor Message

MARTIN: So it has been a whirlwind 24 hours there for people in Rafah. Could you just tell us how we got here?

BATRAWY: It really has been. I mean, this actually really began, you could say, Sunday afternoon when Hamas fired rockets from Rafah into Israel, killing four soldiers. And this was in the middle of ongoing cease-fire talks in Cairo. Now, Israel, which had been planning an attack on Rafah, then dropped flyers and sent messages for people to leave certain parts of Rafah. The order impacts at least 100,000 people. There were chaotic scenes of people frightened, packing their bags, again, displaced for the fourth and fifth time, trying to walk with canes, wheelchairs, whatever they could carry. And just when it looked like Hamas and Israel were dug in for this major battle on Rafah, Hamas says they're ready to release hostages and accept a truce, something that huge numbers of supporters of Israel hostages were waiting for.

MARTIN: You know, obviously, you know, for these hostages and for the people of Gaza, the stakes could not be higher. So what do we know about the deal that Hamas agreed to?

BATRAWY: So the devil here is really in the details, Michel. Now, this was a version of the deal that Egypt and Qatari mediators had been hammering out with Hamas over the weekend in Cairo, with the CIA director there as well. Now, Hamas leaked a draft of this proposal. And basically, it calls for three phases to end the war, starting with a six-week pause and the release of some Israeli hostages in exchange for, you know, Palestinian prisoners and more aid coming into Gaza. But ultimately, the sticking point has been and continues to be that Hamas wants a deal that ends the war, and Israel says that would just leave Hamas intact. So Israel's war cabinet says the current deal doesn't meet its requirements, but they will send negotiators this time around to Cairo. They weren't there over the weekend. Meanwhile, you know, we're seeing these striking images of Israeli tanks in control of Gaza's border crossing just across from Egypt.

MARTIN: What about that? What does Israel's military operation look like in Rafah now? I mean, is this the major assault in the city that the U.S. and others had been warning against?

Sponsor Message

BATRAWY: So, Michel, this really just depends on who you ask. A U.S. official told NPR in Washington this did not appear to be that, but they said the White House has real concerns about this unfolding Israeli operation. Now, the Israeli military says, this is a, quote, "precise counterterrorism operation aimed at Hamas' infrastructure." They say they killed 20 militants overnight. But for Palestinians in Rafah, this is what they feared the most. You know, hundreds have been killed in Rafah in Israeli airstrikes over the past weeks. There were intense airstrikes again overnight, striking homes and killing families sheltering there. And aid organizations say this is also a nightmare scenario for them as well, because the area that Israel told people to evacuate from in Rafah is where Gaza's main crossing with Egypt is. Now, this is a gateway for people to leave Gaza, but also for aid organizations to have their staff enter and for aid to enter Gaza, and it is now sealed at a time when people are dying of hunger. So this is why we heard, like the international rescue committee saying, for example, this is as bad as it gets. And there's also the question of where do people in Rafah go? Aid groups on the ground, running field hospitals and aid distributions, say the areas people were told to flee to by Israeli military are uninhabitable and don't have vital services or even shelter. And so I think right now, it's just unclear to us how far Israel's military really intends to push into Rafah.

MARTIN: That is NPR's Aya Batrawy. Aya, thank you.

BATRAWY: Thanks so much, Michel. 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.

Michel Martin
Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered and host of the Consider This Saturday podcast, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.
Aya Batrawy
Aya Batrawy is an NPR International Correspondent. She leads NPR's Gulf bureau in Dubai.