Washington had previously blamed the Palestinian group for the end of a week-long truce to facilitate a prisoner-hostage exchange
CIA director Bill Burns held talks with Israeli and Qatari officials in Warsaw on Monday as part of a renewed effort to restart hostage and prisoner exchanges between Israel and Hamas, media reports say.
Burns met with the head of Israel’s Mossad spy agency, David Barnea, and Qatari Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, the Wall Street Journal said, citing officials familiar with the talks. Barnea has been leading Israel’s hostage negotiation efforts, while the Qataris – who host Hamas’ political wing in its capital, Doha – have been facilitating talks between the two warring sides.
US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Charles Q. Brown also held talks with officials in Israel on Monday. The Wall Street Journal notes that this is part of the Biden administration’s “intense focus” on resolving the crisis in Gaza.
Health officials in the besieged enclave say that more than 19,000 people have died so far in Israel’s bombardment of the enclave, while Israel claims that about 1,200 people died in Hamas’ cross-border attack on October 7 and around 200 hostages were seized during the assault.
Discussions over the release of Hamas hostages have been brought into sharper focus in recent days after Israel’s military forces said on Friday that its soldiers had accidentally killed three unarmed men later confirmed to have been hostages in Gaza.
In a week-long truce last month, Hamas freed 105 hostages in exchange for the release of 240 Palestinians being held in Israeli prisons. However, negotiations broke down and the war resumed on December 1. Agreeing on terms for future exchanges has proven to be difficult, the New York Times said on Monday, citing comment from US officials.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken earlier this month blamed Hamas for the resumption of the conflict, saying that the Palestinian militant group “reneged on commitments it had made.” Hamas blamed the end of the truce on Israeli air strikes.
Egyptian officials, meanwhile, have said that Hamas has told its negotiators that it is willing to permit the release of more hostages provided that aid to Gaza is doubled, the Wall Street Journal reported. Hamas’ terms also include Israel announcing a ceasefire and withdrawing its forces to an agreed line, the report adds.
Hamas is also seeking the release from Israel of high profile Palestinian prisoners, such as Marwan Barghouti – a leader of the Fatah faction serving five life sentences for the murder of Israelis in the 2000s, the WSJ said.
Israeli military spokesman Daniel Hagari, though, said on Sunday that Hamas’ calls for a cessation of its ground operation will not distract from the IDF’s goal to “dismantle Hamas.”
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