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CIA, Mossad chiefs set to discuss Hamas hostage deal

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The heads of the CIA and Mossad, Israel’s spy agency, are expected to hold talks with senior Egyptian and Qatari officials on Tuesday in a bid to restart negotiations on a deal to end the war between Israel and Hamas and secure the release of hostages held in Gaza, people familiar with the process said.

The negotiations, expected to take place in Cairo, come a week after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu dismissed Hamas’ demands for a deal as “delusional” and vowed to pursue “total victory” in war with the Palestinian militant group.

The mediators hoped that Mossad chief David Barnea’s plan to visit Egypt was a sign that Israel was still open to talks about a possible deal, despite Netanyahu’s rhetoric.

“The discussions have been constructive and there is a willingness to compromise,” said a diplomat briefed on the discussions. “Barnea would not participate in the negotiations if he did not have the green light.”

Last week, Hamas proposed a four-and-a-half-month ceasefire, during which it would gradually release the remaining hostages in exchange for Israel’s release of 1,500 Palestinian prisoners, 500 of whom were serving life sentences. The proposal follows a framework agreement negotiated by mediators in January.

Hamas also demanded that Israeli forces withdraw from major urban centers in Gaza during the first phase of the truce, and completely withdraw from the besieged strip during the second phase.

The talks, brokered by the United States, Qatar and Egypt, have been bogged down for weeks by Israel’s rejection of Hamas’s insistence that any hostage deal should end in a ceasefire. permanent.

David Barnea, head of Israel’s Mossad spy agency, set to meet CIA chief in Egypt ©AFP via Getty Images

Since launching its offensive on Gaza in response to the devastating Hamas attack on October 7, Israel has pledged to eradicate the Palestinian militant group and maintain overall security in the Strip.

The diplomat said the critical points remained the question of a permanent ceasefire – which mediators would also like to include at the end of any hostage deal – and the withdrawal of Israeli troops from Gaza.

But the mediators hope to reach compromises.

After Netanyahu rejected Hamas’s proposals last week, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that while some “obvious failures” had been put forward by the militant group, “we think this creates space to achieve an agreement and we will work on it.” this relentlessly until we get there.”

US President Joe Biden also told reporters last week that he was “doing everything he can” to negotiate a truce and the release of the hostages.

“I think so if we can get it. . . “After the first (pause of hostilities), I think we would be able to extend it in order to increase the prospect of a change in the fighting in Gaza,” Biden said.

Barnea and CIA chief Bill Burns recently held talks with Qatari and Egyptian officials in Paris last month, during which they agreed to a framework agreement calling for a six-week pause in hostilities with a view to an exchange of hostages and prisoners. But this agreement did not guarantee a permanent ceasefire.

After Israeli forces freed two hostages in Gaza on Monday, Netanyahu said: “Only continued military pressure, until total victory, will result in the release of all our hostages.” »

Hamas is believed to be holding around 130 hostages, including the bodies of several deceased people. The group killed around 1,200 people and captured 250 during its October 7 attack.

The latest hostage negotiations come as international pressure mounts on Israel to end its war in Gaza, which has killed more than 28,000 people, according to Palestinian health officials.

Global concern over the Israeli offensive has intensified since Netanyahu ordered the army to prepare to evacuate civilians from Rafah, a densely populated southern city home to more than a million Gazans, many of them have already been displaced from their homes.

Last week, Biden called the Israeli military response in Gaza “overblown,” adding: “There are a lot of innocent people dying of starvation; many innocent people are in trouble and dying, and this must stop.

He said a prolonged pause in hostilities to free the hostages could also allow progress in negotiations on a broader plan to secure a lasting peace deal, which could include Saudi Arabia’s offer to normalize its relations with Israel.

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