The heads of the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and Israel’s Mossad have met in Qatar to discuss the extension of a truce between Israel and Hamas as well as the captives being held by the Palestinian group in Gaza.
CIA Director William Burns and David Barnea, head of the Mossad intelligence service, held talks with Qatar’s Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al Thani on Tuesday, a day after Doha announced a two-day extension of an original four-day humanitarian pause in Gaza that had been due to expire.
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“We have to read a little bit between the lines here: [The intelligence chiefs were] important in the last meeting, which was on November 9. We believe that was one of the stepping stones getting us to the initial four-day deal,” Al Jazeera’s diplomatic editor James Bays said.
“The fact that we’ve got intelligence chiefs sitting here with the Qatari prime minister, who is also the foreign minister, is interesting because they’ve got the intelligence picture. But also I think it’s interesting partly because of who the US has got leading this effort,” he said, adding that Burns is “more experienced a negotiator than Antony Blinken”, the US secretary of state.
Israel and Hamas have accused each other of violating the original truce. But they have continued to swap captives for prisoners. Hamas has released captives in its custody, with another 12 freed on Tuesday.
Our teams have successfully facilitated the release and transfer of 12 hostages held in Gaza.
We have been able to carry out this operation thanks to our neutral intermediary role.
— ICRC in Israel & OT (@ICRC_ilot) November 28, 2023
Majed al-Ansari, a spokesperson for Qatar’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said in a post on X that 30 Palestinian prisoners are set to be released.
On Monday, mediator Qatar said a humanitarian pause in fighting between Israel and Hamas would be extended by two days, hours before the initial four-day truce in Gaza was set to expire.
Qatar, the US and Egypt have engaged in intense negotiations to establish and prolong the truce in Gaza.
Over the course of the initial pause, Hamas released 69 captives – 51 Israelis and 18 people of other nationalities.
In exchange, 150 Palestinian prisoners– 117 children and 33 women – held in Israeli prisons were released and more humanitarian aid was allowed into Gaza.
The talks between the US and Israeli intelligence chiefs and Qatar were also attended by Egyptian officials.
“Is there a way that they can try and deal with the central problem here of keeping this [current truce] going while Israel at the same time wants to remove Hamas?” Bays asked.
“We don’t know anything from the information on the ground, but one possibility that some are suggesting is perhaps a deal could be done for the Hamas military leadership to be persuaded to go into exile in another country,” he said.
“That’s certainly not what we’re hearing from Israeli media sources; the latest we’re hearing from them is that the Israeli government does not want an extension beyond 10 days in total, taking us until the end of Sunday,” according to Bays.
Meanwhile, far-right Israeli Minister for National Security Itamar Ben-Gvir called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to allow soldiers to return to fighting in Gaza to “crush Hamas” as he reacted to an army statement that three explosive devices were detonated in two locations near troops in northern Gaza.
“We must not wait until our fighters are killed. We must once again act in accordance with the goal of the war: the total destruction of Hamas,” the minister posted on X.