The meeting in Doha also dealt with the humanitarian assistance in Gaza and the latest regional escalations.
Qatar and the United States confirmed receiving Hamas’s response to a new proposal for another pause in Gaza and a captives’ exchange deal on Tuesday as U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken visits the region for the fifth time since the start of the war.
The development in the indirect negotiations between Israel and Hamas came during a joint press conference in Doha between Qatar’s Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
“We received a response from Hamas regarding the framework agreement, which includes observations that are generally positive,” Sheikh Mohammed, who is also Qatar’s foreign minister, told the press.
Sheikh Mohammed added that “Hamas’s response inspires optimism,” but said he cannot go into further details on the matter “due to the sensitivity” of the current stage of negotiations.”
Blinken echoed the Qatari diplomat’s remarks, noting he will discuss Hamas’s response with Israeli officials during his visit to Tel Aviv on Wednesday.
“There’s still a lot of work to be done, but we continue to believe that an agreement is possible and, indeed, essential and we will continue to work relentlessly to achieve it,” Blinken told the press at the Diwan Annex.
The U.S. official’s visit to Qatar is his third since the beginning of the Israeli war on Gaza on October 7, 2023, where occupation forces killed at least 27,585 people and wounded 66,978 others.
Qatar has evacuated more than 600 wounded Palestinians from Gaza, Sheikh Mohammed confirmed.
Blinken is also on his fifth regional tour which includes Saudi Arabia, Tel Aviv, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and the West Bank.
Qatar — the host of a Hamas political office — and Egypt have been at the forefront of diplomatic efforts to end the war in Gaza.
Both countries mediated a temporary truce last year that lasted between November 24 and December 1, enabling the release of at least 110 Israeli and foreign captives from Gaza in exchange for the release of 242 Palestinian women and children from Israeli prisons.
Talks have stalled since the previous pause expired under the non-stop Israeli bombardments and ground invasion of Gaza that has since escalated. The killing of top Hamas official Saleh Al-Arouri in Beirut last December was another obstacle in the negotiations.
The talks appeared to get closer to a deal last week following a meeting in Paris with representatives from Qatar, the U.S., Egypt, and Israel. Sheikh Mohammed was at the talks and headed to Washington after the meeting ended.
Then on February 1 when Qatar’s foreign ministry spokesperson Majed Al Ansari said Israel agreed to a proposed ceasefire and Doha had received an initial “positive confirmation” from Hamas.
However, Hamas said at the time that it was still reviewing the deal with other Palestinian factions in order to respond to it.
Some of the sticking points throughout the negotiations have been the demand for a ceasefire from Hamas and the withdrawal of occupation forces from Gaza—something that Israel and the U.S. have been rejecting.
When asked by the press in Doha over whether it is time to push for a ceasefire, Blinken maintained that a deal over the release of captives and a pause is the way forward towards extended calm.
The discussions between the senior Qatari and U.S. diplomats also involved the latest decision of 16 countries to halt funding the United Nations’ agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA).
Sheikh Mohammed reiterated his warning over the “catastrophic implications” of the decision, saying that those benefiting from the agency cannot be collectively punished.
The collective decision by major donors, including the United States, came after Israel accused 12 of UNRWA’s employees of allegedly being involved in Hamas’s surprise attack of October 7, 2023.
The agency, which has at least 12,000 employees, sacked nine of those accused. Two more were reportedly missing and one was killed amid Israel’s onslaught on the besieged enclave.
Speaking to The Financial Times on Saturday, UNRWA’s chief, Philippe Lazzarini, said that Israel has not presented evidence over its allegations against the agency and Israeli media leaks of an intelligence assessment forced them to respond to the claims.
The current regional escalations have been another point of major concern for Doha and Washington and part of the meeting’s agenda.
Sheikh Mohammed renewed his condolences to Washington over the killing of three American military members in a U.S. outpost in Jordan. The attack was carried out by the Islamic Resistance in Iraq and marked a major regional escalation.
Qatar’s prime minister emphasised the need to halt the war in Gaza in order to stop the circle of regional conflict from expanding into an all-out regional war.
“We warned, from the first day of the outbreak of confrontations, of the dangers of expanding the cycle of violence in the region, as the region also suffers from ongoing and chronic crises and conflicts, and we regret and sadden that these fears are becoming a reality,” Sheikh Mohammed said.
Blinken added that none of the attacks helped “secure the dignity of Palestinians,” while warning of “taking advantage” of the current “conflict” in Gaza.
“We’ve been very clear that we do not want to see the conflict expanded, we do not want to see an escalation, but we’ve also been clear that if our personnel, if our people are threatened or attacked, we will respond. We will defend them. We are seeking to prevent escalation,” Blinken said.
The Red Sea has also been a high-tension zone that has been witnessing a flare-up between the Houthi Rebels and its Western enemies.
Attacks in the Red Sea have been on the rise since late last year, most notably after the Houthi’s capture of the Galaxy Leadership on November 19, a vessel that is partially owned by an Israeli businessman.
Yemen’s Houthis have since vowed to include American ships in the ongoing Red Sea attacks.
The U.S. then launched Operation Prosperity Guardian on December 18, 2023, a coalition aimed at addressing “security challenges in the southern Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden.”
The operation includes the United Kingdom, Bahrain, Canada, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Seychelles and Spain.
The Red Sea escalations had started as the Yemeni file gained momentum for the first time since the beginning of the war in 2015 between the Saudi-led military coalition and the Houthi rebels.
The matter was also on the agenda in the meeting between Blinken and Saudi Crown Prince and Prime Minister Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud in Riyadh on Monday.