U.S. officials briefed on the latest mediation talks told The New York Times that American negotiators were nearing a deal that would result in a two-month truce to release the remaining captives.
Qatar’s Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani is reportedly heading to Washington this week to meet senior U.S. members as reports on Saturday point to a possible new deal on Gaza.
Sources privy to the matter told Al-Monitor on Friday that Sheikh Mohammed is heading to the U.S. to meet members of the Joe Biden administration and lawmakers, after a reported meeting in Europe.
A separate report by AFP on the same day had said that the CIA’s chief, Bill Burns, is reportedly meeting Sheikh Mohammed as well as officials from Egypt and Israel’s Mossad in Paris this week to discuss a new captives’ release deal.
Qatar has yet to publicly comment on both reports.
Sheikh Tamim had stressed during the call the importance of “strengthening regional and international cooperation in order to achieve an immediate ceasefire,” Qatar’s news agency reported at the time.
The White House’s readout of the call said the two leaders discussed efforts to release the remaining hostages from Gaza and “establishing a prolonged humanitarian pause,” without mentioning a ceasefire—which Washington repeatedly rejected.
Qatar—the host of a Hamas political office—and Egypt have been at the forefront of diplomatic efforts to end the war in Gaza, where Israel has killed more than 26,000 Palestinians, 70% of which are women and children.
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.
The deal also saw the release of 240 Palestinian women and children from Israeli prisons, though recent reports pointed to Israel detaining some of the freed prisoners.
President Biden’s senior Middle East adviser Brett McGurk had returned to Qatar last week after a stopover in Egypt for talks aimed at releasing the remaining captives from Hamas.
The increased communications between the negotiating parties come as the genocidal war in Gaza nears four months as the international community scrambles for a deal that could possibly halt the war.
U.S. officials briefed on the latest mediation talks told The New York Times on Saturday that American negotiators are nearing a deal that would result in a two-month truce to release the remaining captives.
The report said the deal could be finalised “in the next two weeks” as negotiators drafted the agreement that merged proposals by Israel and Hamas. The new proposal on the table is on the agenda of the meeting in Paris between the negotiators.
The first phase of the deal would witness a 30-day pause to release women, elderly and wounded captives from Hamas. Discussions during the same period would plan the second phase, which entails another 30-day pause to release Israeli soldiers and male captives.
It remains unclear how many Palestinians would be released under the same deal, which would also enable the entry of additional aid into Gaza.
Despite the apparent breakthrough, the sources told NYT that there is still a state of cautious optimism.
The Times reported that if the CIA director makes sufficient progress during his meeting in Europe, McGurk would then return to the region to finalise the deal.
The key difference between Israel and Hamas’s demands is that the former has insisted on having pauses whereas the latter demanded a permanent ceasefire.
Israel has intensified its deadly bombardment and ground invasion of southern Gaza since the start of the year, with hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in Khan Younis being forced to evacuate the area to Rafah.
Citizen journalists on the ground have documented field killings by Israeli occupation forces of people as they were trying to flee to Rafah or save their families.
Israel has besieged the Nasser Medical Complex since last week, where hundreds of victims, medics and displaced Palestinians are stranded. Medics had to bury 150 victims in the medical complex’s courtyard on Saturday due to the Israeli siege of the hospital.
The U.S., Australia, Canada, Italy, Germany, Finland, the Netherlands, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and Scotland collectively halted funding to the United Nations’ Palestinian refugee agency (UNRWA) on Saturday, contributing to a dire humanitarian catastrophe.
The countries justified the move by claiming that 12 of UNRWA’s members played a role in the October 7 surprise Hamas attack on Israel. The UN decided to terminate the jobs of nine out of the 12 staff accused of partaking in the operation the following day.
UNRWA’s Commissioner General Philippe Lazzarini warned that the move threatens the agency’s humanitarian work in the region, especially in Gaza.
“It is shocking to see a suspension of funds to the Agency in reaction to allegations against a small group of staff, especially given the immediate action that UNRWA took by terminating their contracts and asking for a transparent independent investigation,” Lazzarini said.