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What Will It Take To Make The Gaza Cease-Fire Hold?

A week has elapsed since a ceasefire ended an explosion of violence between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip. The truce has so far held, despite some disputed incidents which have left one Palestinian dead and a group of Gaza fishermen in Israeli custody. Egypt, as mediator, is now holding separate talks with both sides to hammer out detailed agreements on key issues, including easing Israel's blockade of Gaza, and preventing weapons being smuggled into the region.

Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Now to the fragile truce between Israel and Hamas. The fighting may have stopped but a lot of work needs to be done for the cease-fire to last. In Cairo, talks are underway mediated by Egypt, on key issues such as easing the blockade of Gaza.

NPR's Philip Reeves reports those talks are being followed closely by people on land and sea.

PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: It's not easy fishing for a living off Gaza. Down in the harbor, fisherman Faraj Salah is happily loading two large, fresh sea bass into his van. For Salah, these are the first fruits of the cease-fire agreement between Hamas and Israel. Until week ago, Salah was only permitted to fish up to three miles off-shore. Israel imposed that restriction on all Gaza's fishermen after Hamas kidnapped an Israeli soldier.

Salah still remembers the date...

FARAJ SALAH: (Foreign language spoken)

REEVES: ...June 2006.

Three miles sounds like a lot of sea, though not to commercial fishermen like Salah.

SALAH: (Through Translator) It's really only a rather large swimming pool. It's sandy and no good for fishing.

REEVES: That three mile limit was increased to six miles as an early part of the cease-fire agreement that's now under discussion. When Salah heard this he got into his boat and headed out into the Mediterranean.

He remembered that, years back, Gaza's fishermen dumped some wrecked cars about six miles offshore. They hoped fish would think the cars were rocks and gather there. Salah went to the same spot. He came home with his two sea bass and words of praise for those who've persuaded Israel to expand Gaza's fishing grounds.

SALAH: (Through Translator) We begged the Israelis for six years to extend that zone, but they refused. Thanks to the rockets of the Resistance, they finally agreed to expand it - a little.

REEVES: Like every Gazan, Salah has always lived with conflict. Ask him how long the cease-fire will last and his eyes cloud over. There have already been problems. Israel says its navy detained some Gaza fishermen for going beyond the six-mile limit. Gazan fishermen say the Israelis fired on a boat and kidnapped six fishermen.

Eight days of Israeli missile strikes have left a strange residue in Gaza. Hundreds of people were killed or injured; buildings and parts of the infrastructure were destroyed. Yet, many Gazans still consider this a victory.

Many credit this to Hamas, the rulers of Gaza. They're particularly delighted that, for the first time, Hamas rockets targeted Israel's big cities - Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

TALAL OKAL: I am democratic, secular, progressive man. This is my life. This is my thoughts, and so on.

REEVES: Talal Okal was once an official the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a very different organization from Hamas. Now he's revisiting his political views.

OKAL: I used to criticize Hamas but now I raise my hat for Hamas.

REEVES: Why?

OKAL: Because they are doing well. They deserve respect, and I think popularity is better now. They are more stronger. They achieved something, unachieved before.

REEVES: In the cafes of Gaza it's not hard to find a different view. Safa has small kids and she's just glad there are no more missiles. She's no fan of Hamas and isn't interested in talking up the latest war.

SAFA: (Through Translator) The price we paid in the blood of children was not worth what we got.

REEVES: Her friend, Ruba, chips in with her take on the global attention that Hamas is suddenly enjoying.

RUBA: (Through Translator) Their power has increased. They are more confident. But their popularity? That's not about power. That depends on how they rule.

(SOUNDBITE OF HEAVY MACHINERY)

REEVES: Bulldozers clear the mess made by Israel's missiles. This will take months if not years. But the focus here is on rebuilding politically. The Palestinians are divided. The West Bank is under the Palestinian Authority. That's the body leading tomorrow's mission to the U.N. to secure a vote recognizing Palestinian statehood. Hamas and the Palestinian Authority have been estranged for five years. There's optimism among Gazans this rift is about to end.

Standing by the ruins of a huge government complex, flattened by an Israeli bombardment, that was the message of Hamas spokesman Abdul Latif Qania.

ABDUL LATIF QANIA: (Foreign language spoken)

REEVES: In the coming days, God willing, we'll have good news about Palestinian reconciliation, he says.

But political memories are long in these parts. Healing rifts is as hard as catching sea bass.

Philip Reeves, NPR News, Jerusalem. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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