The frequent communications between the US and Qatar come as the Israeli government faces mounting pressure for the release of all captives.
The Middle East’s envoy for United States President Joe Biden is reportedly heading to Qatar this week as part of a regional tour aimed at securing captives held by Hamas, four American and Israeli officials told Axios on Saturday.
Biden’s senior Middle East adviser Brett McGurk is scheduled to first visit Israel on Tuesday before heading to Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Qatar, the sources said.
In Tel Aviv, McGurk is expected to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Minister of Defence Yoav Gallant among other officials. Then in Doha, McGurk will discuss the developments in Gaza as well as efforts to release captives.
McGurk’s visit in Doha comes days after a stopover by CIA Director William Burns in Qatar on Thursday, in which he reportedly met with Qatar’s Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani.
Qatar has played a central role in efforts to release civilian captives held by Hamas following the October 7 attack, becoming a key destination for US and other officials.
Last week, Hamas confirmed it has 242 captives and said more than 60 have been killed by Israel bombardment of Gaza. As of Sunday morning, the Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) have killed at least 11,078 Palestinians, including more than 4,500 children.
So far, Qatar has managed to release four captives from Hamas, though negotiations have stalled due to intensified Israeli bombardment in recent weeks.
Also last week, Hamas said it was close to releasing 12 additional foreign captives from Gaza, but blamed Israel of obstructing the process with its ongoing bombardment.
Then on Thursday, Al-Qassam issued two videos of captives—a 77-year-old woman and a 13-year-old boy—and confirmed it was willing to release both of them on humanitarian grounds on the condition that Israel meets “appropriate measures”.
Some of the proposals currently on the table of negotiations include a possible deal to release some 80 women and children from Hamas, Axios reported.
However, this would be in exchange for the release of Palestinian women and children behind Israeli bars, mostly in the occupied West Bank, Israeli officials told the American outlet. The officials added that the deal is likely to potentially include allowing the entry of fuel into Gaza.
Israeli media separately reported progress in talks for the release of captives, pointing to the possibility of the release of 50-to-100 women, children and elderly. The reports said the potential deal could take place in stages under a three-to-five day pause in fighting.
Israel would in turn release women and minor Palestinian prisoners while considering allowing the entry of fuel into Gaza. However, Israel would “maintain its right” to resume its war in Gaza, Al Jazeera reported.
So far, Netanyahu has rejected all forms of a ceasefire without the return of captives, including Washington’s calls for “humanitarian pauses”.
Biden was asked last week about frustrations over Netanyahu’s delays in implementing a “humanitarian pause”, to which he responded by saying: “It’s taken a little longer than I hoped.”
Netanyahu under pressure
The increase in communication between the US and Qatar comes as the Israeli government faces mounting pressure at home with relatives calling for the release of all captives.
On Saturday, thousands rallied in Tel Aviv once again, criticising the Israeli government for its handling of the captives issue and demanding their immediate release.
“Mr Prime Minister, cabinet members, do not talk to me about conquering, do not talk to me about flattening [Gaza]. Do not talk at all. Just take action…bring them home now,” Noam Perry, son of a captive, told Israel’s Haaretz.
Such rallies have been taking place almost daily since the beginning of the Israeli war on Gaza, all of which demanding Netanyahu’s resignation for mishandling the war and putting the lives of their relatives in jeopardy.
A video released by Hamas on October 30 showed three women captives lashing out at Netanyahu for his failure to secure their release and using their lives as a bargaining chip.
“You had to free us all and instead we are diving in your political, security, military chaos, because of the mess you made on October 7, because there was no army there,” one of the three captives said.
She added: “You are killing us, you want to kill us all. You want to find a way to kill us all. It’s not enough that you killed everyone[…] free us all.”
However, the Israeli official brushed off the woman’s plight and described the video as “psychological propaganda” while rejecting all calls for a ceasefire. The Israeli official said he believes a ceasefire would mean Israel would “surrender to Hamas, to surrender to terrorism, to surrender to barbarism”.