Report: CIA head pushes big hostage deal in secret meeting with Mossad chief
CIA Director William Burns arrived in Qatar on Tuesday for secret meetings with Israel’s spy chief and Qatar’s prime minister aimed at brokering an expansive deal between Israel and Hamas, three people familiar with the visit told the Washington Post.
“Burns is pushing for Hamas and Israel to broaden the focus of their ongoing hostage negotiations, thus far limited to women and children, to encompass the release of men and military personnel, too,” the U.S. newspaper reported.
He is also seeking a longer multi-day pause in fighting while taking into account the Israeli demand that Hamas release at least 10 hostages for every day there is a break in the war, the sources added.
A briefed source meanwhile told AFP that the US and Israeli intelligence chiefs have arrived in the Qatari capital to discuss the "next phase" of the deal between Hamas and Israel in Gaza.
"The director of the CIA and the director of the Israeli National Intelligence Agency (Mossad) are in Doha to meet with the Qatari prime minister to build on the progress of the extended humanitarian pause agreement and to initiate further discussions about the next phase of a potential deal," the source told AFP, adding that Egyptian officials were also present.
On Tuesday, Qatar's foreign ministry spokesman said the mediator would use the extension to work towards a "sustainable truce" between Israel and Hamas.
"Our main focus right now, and our hope, is to reach a sustainable truce that will lead to further negotiations and eventually to an end... to this war," Majed Al Ansari told reporters.
"However, we are working with what we have. And what we have right now is the provision to the agreement that allows us to extend days as long as Hamas is able to guarantee the release of at least 10 hostages."
Ansari confirmed the truce would continue with the release of 20 further hostages. "We are hopeful that in the next 48 hours we will be getting more information from Hamas regarding the rest of the hostages," he added.
The spokesman said "minimal breaches" in recent days had not "harmed the essence of the agreement."
Egyptian and Qatari officials meanwhile told the Wall Street Journal that the chief brokers of the Israel-Hamas captive exchange deal are pushing the two sides to prolong the cease-fire in Gaza through the end of the week and start talks on a permanent truce that would end the war altogether.
A long-term cease-fire would likely require Israel and Hamas to make hard-to-swallow concessions, such as trading Israeli soldiers for potentially thousands of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, the officials said. And it would require Israel to hold back on an offensive in southern Gaza intended to capture the strip and kill Hamas' top leadership, the officials said.
Israel and Hamas have agreed to a deal to extend the pause in fighting in Gaza by two days, Qatar announced. Under the deal, additional hostages would be released from the Gaza Strip each day in exchange for Palestinian prisoners.
Burns has emerged as the main U.S. negotiator in the hostage crisis, valued by President Joe Biden for his broad array of contacts across the Middle East and, in particular, within Israel’s Mossad intelligence service.
“They listen to him and highly respect him,” said a person familiar with the negotiations.
Burns, a veteran diplomat and former U.S. ambassador to Moscow, is often tapped by Biden to handle the administration’s most vexing challenges, from warning Russia not to use nuclear weapons in Ukraine to negotiating with the Taliban amid the U.S. evacuation crisis in Afghanistan.
His role in the Israel-Gaza war is particularly prominent given Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s reliance on Mossad chief David Barnea.
“Barnea is the key Israeli person for these negotiations,” said Natan Sachs, an Israel scholar at the Brookings Institution, a think tank. “He’s the one authorized to speak on behalf of the prime minister.”
Qatar, a gas-rich peninsula in the Persian Gulf, has mediated talks between Israel and Hamas since the start of the conflict.
U.S. officials are pushing for a longer string of days without fighting to release hostages and allow humanitarian aid into the enclave. Israeli officials have told counterparts the maximum number of extra days they are willing to allow is 10 before they seek to resume military operations, said people familiar with the matter.
Netanyahu has vowed to destroy Hamas, and officials are uncertain whether Israel can be persuaded to back off its 10-day limit amid the push to release as many hostages as possible.
Netanyahu, speaking over the weekend, vowed to continue fighting after the current phase of hostage negotiations. “We will return with full force to achieve our goals: the elimination of Hamas; ensuring that Gaza does not return to what it was,” he said.
The latest round of releases Monday brought the number of Israeli hostages freed to 51, including dual nationals, plus 18 foreign nationals from Thailand and the Philippines, while Israel has released 150 imprisoned Palestinian women and teenagers.
The truce agreed to last week was the first pause in hostilities since the conflict began Oct. 7, when Hamas gunmen launched a surprise cross-border assault that allegedly killed 1,200 people and took more than 240 hostages.
Israel responded with a massive bombing campaign and ground offensive that has killed more than 13,300 Palestinians, thousands of them children. Huge sections of the densely populated enclave have been leveled by Israeli bombs and artillery, and Israeli restrictions on food, fuel and drinking water have created a humanitarian catastrophe.