Egyptian and Qatari officials were set to present Hamas with a new Israeli truce proposal after high-level talks in Paris focused on negotiating a deal to suspend fighting in Gaza and release hostages held by Hamas and other groups. armed.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel said discussions would continue this week, signaling at least the potential for progress toward an agreement as the fighting heads into its fourth month. Sunday’s talks were “constructive,” Netanyahu’s office said, but warned that “significant gaps” remained.
A person briefed on the talks said Israel had put forward a proposal for Egypt and Qatar – two countries that have served as intermediaries since the fighting began – to confront Hamas, whose deadly Oct. 7 cross-border attack sparked the war. Israeli retaliation against the group in Gaza.
There was enough progress during the discussion that Egypt and Qatar thought it was worth taking the new proposal to Hamas, the person said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the delicate diplomacy.
Among those participating in Sunday’s meeting were CIA Director William J. Burns; Israel’s spy chief, David Barnea; the head of the Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security agency, Ronen Bar; the Prime Minister of Qatar, Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim al-Thani, and the Minister of Intelligence of Egypt, General Abbas Kamel.
Negotiators planned to leave Paris, but discussions were expected to continue in the coming days in the hope that the new proposal would break the deadlock and get negotiations moving forward in earnest, the person said without revealing any details about the proposal.
Israeli leaders have vowed for months to continue their war against Hamas until the organization’s military capabilities and its ability to govern Gaza are dismantled and it no longer poses a threat. But Hamas officials have publicly conditioned any new hostage release on Israel’s commitment to a complete cessation of the war.
In recent days, U.S.-led negotiators had developed a draft written agreement that merged proposals offered by Israel and Hamas into a basic framework that would see Israel suspend its war in Gaza for about two months in exchange for gradual liberation. of more than 100 hostages still in Gaza. in the hands of Hamas.
Efforts to free more hostages have stalled since an initial agreement in November resulted in a week-long pause in fighting and the release of more than 100 hostages by Hamas and around 240 Palestinian prisoners and detainees held by Hamas. Israel.
Some 136 people taken hostage during the Oct. 7 attack remain missing, although about two dozen are presumed dead, according to Israeli officials. About 1,200 more people were killed in the attacks, Israeli officials said.
There was no immediate information about where or when more talks would take place, or who might participate in them.
But the push for a new deal comes as the hostages’ families and their supporters have increased pressure on the Israeli government to prioritize their release over continued fighting, and as food and water shortages worsen. the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, where health officials have said more than 26,000 people have died since the start of Israel’s military response.
An intense debate is underway in Israel over whether its advanced military offensive is bringing a hostage deal closer by putting pressure on Hamas leaders in Gaza or distancing prospects for a deal and endangering captives.
Yoav Gallant, Israel’s defense minister and a key member of the country’s five-person war cabinet, told reserve troops who gathered on Sunday: “Thanks to what you have done and continue to do, these days we are carrying out a negotiation process for liberation”. of hostages,” adding that Israel would intensify its military pressure.