Hamas says around 60 captives held in Gaza have been killed in the Israeli bombardment.
CIA Director William Burns is scheduled to hold talks in Doha on Thursday over the possibility of releasing captives from Gaza, as Qatar and the US attempt to reach a one-to-three day pause.
Sources privy to the details of Burns’ visit to Qatar confirmed to Al Jazeera on Wednesday that the intelligence official’s visit is centred on talks to release a number of captives from Hamas, though they fell short of providing exact details.
US sources separately told CBS News that Burns is meeting “intelligence counterparts and other officials” in Qatar, and confirmed discussions on the release of captives, the prevention of a regional expansion of the war, and the increase of humanitarian aid to the Strip were all on the agenda.
Burns visited Tel Aviv on Wednesday where he met with the Israeli occupation forces’ (IOF) Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi.
The top CIA official’s visit comes as the Gulf diplomatic broker, which hosts a Hamas political bureau, holds extensive discussions with its international partners to retrieve captives from Gaza as part of its wider attempts to reach a ceasefire.
Last week, Israel confirmed that Hamas has 242 captives in Gaza, all of whom were captured during the October 7 operation, ‘Operation Al Aqsa Flood’.
Carried out by the Al-Qassam Brigades—Hamas’ armed wing—the operation marked the biggest Palestinian attack on Israel and resulted in the killing of some 1,400 Israelis.
Hamas managed to break out of the besieged Gaza Strip and infiltrated occupied territories through air, land and sea for the first time in years. The Palestinian group said the operation was a response to Israel’s intensified raids on holy sites in Jerusalem in recent months months, as well as its decades-long crippling occupation of Palestinian land.
However, Israel has since used the operation as the pretext for its brutal onslaught in Gaza and has killed at least 10,569 Palestinians, including 4,324 in just one month.
Hamas says around 60 captives held in Gaza have also been killed in the Israeli bombardment.
Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been facing mounting pressure on several fronts for refusing to cease fire despite global pressure, evening snubbing Washington’s calls for a “humanitarian pause” to release captives.
Meanwhile, Qatari, US and Egyptian mediators are working to release 10-to-15 captives in exchange for a one-to-three day ceasefire, sources familiar to the matter told Reuters and Axios this week.
“The exact number is still unclear at this stage,” the source, who requested to remain anonymous, told the news agency.
An Egyptian security source separately told Reuters that a 24-48 hour ceasefire or a limitation of military operations are expected next week in exchange for the release of the captives. The US is reportedly doubling down on efforts to pressure its ally to agree to a pause.
So far, Qatar has managed to release four captives from Hamas though negotiations have stalled due to intensified Israeli bombardment in recent weeks.
“With this violence increasing everyday, with this bombing continuous everyday our task has become even more difficult. But despite that, we remain hopeful, we remain committed to our role of reaching out to the parties with the aim of reaching a positive result,” Qatar’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Dr. Mohammed Al Khulaifi told Sky News on October 26.
On Tuesday, Hamas said it was close to releasing 12 additional foreign captives from Gaza but blamed Israel of obstructing the process with its ongoing bombardment.
Al-Qassam Brigades’ spokesperson Abu Obeida on Tuesday said the movement was “about to release 12 detainees in Gaza who held foreign nationalities” several days ago “but the occupation obstructed that”.
“We are still ready to release them, but the situation on the ground and the Zionist aggression that threatens their lives is what hinders this from being completed,” the statement added.
Meanwhile in a statement to Doha News on Wednesday, Qatar’s Ambassador to the United Kingdom Fahd Al Attiyah said he met families of the captives in London and assured them Doha is working on securing their release from the group in Gaza.
The ambassador said he met mothers of three children being held in Gaza called on Doha to intervene to help release them.
“We assured them that no effort is spared to resolve this situation and that we are working to end hostilities and unite people with their loved ones,” the envoy told Doha News.