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With Gazans' Eyes On Cairo, Hamas Hopes For Leverage


People in Israel and the Gaza Strip are bracing for the possibility of more fighting. A three-day cease-fire is scheduled to end tomorrow morning. Negotiators in Cairo are working to extend it. As the militant group Hamas considers what to do next, NPR's Alice Fordham reports from Gaza that many people there are waiting to see whether talking proves more effective than fighting.

ALICE FORDHAM, BYLINE: Gaza City is coming back to life. In this store, they're arranging fragrant mangoes and guavas to tempt returning customers. Bushra Wafaa is stocking up.

BUSHRA WAFAA: (Foreign-language spoken).

FORDHAM: Like so many, she fled her house when it was hit -squeezing the family into her cousin's place. I asked if suffering and if the hundreds of deaths in the Hamas war with Israel have done any good for the people of Gaza.

WAFAA: (Foreign language spoken).

FORDHAM: She says it will be worth it if all demands are met of the resistance, that's the term Gazans use for the armed groups that fight Israel, and that Hamas's popularity has increased. During this cease-fire, Palestinian and Israeli delegations are holding talks mediated by Egypt. Wafaa hopes the damage inflicted on Israel, like the deaths of more than 60 soldiers, will get the Palestinians leverage. At a local television station I meet Mosheer al-Masryi, spokesman for Hamas which runs Gaza. I ask him why Hamas kept fighting for a month in this round of conflict, not accepting a cease-fire after week as in similar violence in 2012.

MOSHEER AL-MASRYI: (Through translator) First, we are defending our Palestinian people against the occupation's targeting of innocent people, especially since the majority of martyrs are children, women and the elderly. The second thing is to lift the siege that has been imposed on our people.

FORDHAM: Israel says was defending itself against Hamas rockets and tunnels. And what Masryi calls a siege, is a strict limit on goods allowed into the Gaza Strip from Israel, which controls most entrances to Gaza and the bordering sea. The Egyptian government also closed entrances and smuggling tunnels this year. As well as allowing goods into Gaza, taxes on the tunnels were a source of Hamas revenue. A 2012 agreement allowed for more open crossings but Hamas officials say it was never implemented by Israel. Masryi hopes Hamas, because it appeared strong in the fighting, will now repair what were fraying relationships with regional powers like Egypt and Iran.

AL-MASRYI: (Through translator) Today the Muslim nation, and even some of the regimes who don't normally believe in the resistance, have faith in the resistance and believe it is capable of imposing a new solution.

FORDHAM: At a rally today in Gaza City, men on loudspeakers urged people to support the negotiators in Cairo.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken).

FORDHAM: But there were plenty whose ultimate judgment of Hamas depends on what they win in negotiations, and some are pessimistic. I meet Alaa Qudeih in the town of Khuzaa, large parts of which are destroyed. He says Israeli soldiers entered his house and stayed for days.

ALAA QUDEIH: (Through translator) We do need negotiations of peace with Israel but at the same time, Palestinian people have been negotiating with Israel for about 24 years. And we did not obtain anything. The Palestinian people are in a state of despair, frustration and they are not optimistic about anything happening, whether with the armed resistance, the negotiations or the diplomatic path.

FORDHAM: Today a representative of Hamas's military wing told the news channel Al-Jazeera that unless there was an agreement in Cairo on allowing freedom of movement and goods at the crossings, they would restart fighting tomorrow morning. Alice Fordham NPR News, Gaza. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Alice Fordham is an NPR International Correspondent based in Beirut, Lebanon.