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Israel and Hamas appear to inch toward a possible deal to release some hostages

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Israel and Hamas appear to be inching toward a possible deal for the release of some of the 240 hostages kidnapped by Hamas last month. To do that, they will also have to be a pause in the fighting.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

In an interview on NBC's "Meet The Press," President Biden's deputy national security adviser, Jon Finer, issued words of caution.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "MEET THE PRESS")

JON FINER: Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.

INSKEEP: The news - or the anticipation of news - comes as Israel presented video that it says shows a Hamas tunnel under Al-Shifa Hospital, a focal point for the war in the past several weeks.

MARTIN: NPR's Lauren Frayer in Tel Aviv has been reporting on all of this, and she's with us now once again. Good morning, Lauren.

LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: Good morning, Michel.

MARTIN: Would you just start by telling us the latest at Al-Shifa, which is Gaza's biggest hospital?

FRAYER: Michel, you've probably seen the pictures that captivated the world - these 31 newborn babies struggling to survive after their incubators cut out for lack of electricity at Al-Shifa. Doctors there had huddled them together on a bed to keep them warm as the war raged outside. Well, they now have been evacuated. Palestinian ambulances drove them out last night, and they're expected to cross the border into Egypt today. Israel now controls that hospital. It's been evacuating people, and it allowed U.N. representatives in. And they described the interior as a death zone with signs of shelling, gunfire and a mass grave.

Israel, meanwhile, has released a bunch of videos it says prove that Hamas not only operated out of tunnels under the hospital but that it brought at least three hostages into the hospital and, in fact, killed one of them there. They showed us hospital security camera footage and video recorded apparently by a robot that went into those tunnels. NPR hasn't been able to independently verify any of that footage, though.

MARTIN: Let's turn to the hostages, which is a subject that deeply concerns people from a number of nations. The Gulf country of Qatar is acting as a mediator. Its prime minister told reporters yesterday that only minor obstacles remain on a deal to release hostages. Is that what you're hearing?

FRAYER: Yeah. I spoke with a former Mossad intelligence agent. His name is David Meidan. He negotiated Israel's last big hostage transfer involving Gilad Shalit. He was an Israeli soldier held by Hamas in Gaza for five years. He was released 12 years ago, and Meidan did the negotiations. He did it inside Egyptian intelligence headquarters in Cairo. And he described, you know, the Israelis in one room, Hamas down the hall, the Egyptians shuttling between them. He says this time is way harder.

DAVID MEIDAN: Because you have to send messages from Israel to Qatar, from Qatar to the leaders of Hamas in Qatar, and then you have Qatar passing the message to Gaza. You know, it takes time.

FRAYER: You know, the Hamas decision makers, he says, are not in Qatar. They are literally underground in these Gaza tunnels. Another Israeli hostage negotiator told me his understanding is that they are literally passing notes on paper through these tunnels in Gaza up to intelligence officials at the Egyptian border - then out to Qatar, to the U.S. and then to Israel.

MARTIN: Wow. So negotiations on the one hand. On the other hand, we see that Israel - we hear that Israel is widening its bombardment of Gaza. What's the latest on that?

FRAYER: Some of the fiercest fighting today seems to be around yet another hospital in the north of Gaza. Witnesses report airstrikes, shelling, Israeli tanks moving in. Israeli forces, meanwhile, have stepped up their attacks in the south of Gaza, as well. And that is an area where Israel had encouraged civilians to flee toward. So Gaza's 2.3 million people are being squeezed into an ever-smaller area that is suffering more Israeli strikes.

MARTIN: That is NPR's Lauren Frayer in Tel Aviv. Lauren, thank you.

FRAYER: Thanks, 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 is the weekend host of All Things Considered, 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.
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.