CIA head to meet Mossad chief and Qatari PM in Paris, aiming to revive hostage talks

High-level meeting will be first since negotiations fell apart two weeks ago; unclear if Egyptian intel chief will also attend, though Cairo will remain involved in mediation

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US bureau chief

This combination of pictures created on February 13, 2024 shows (L to R) CIA Director William Burns, Mossad Director David Barnea, and Qatar's Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani. (AFP)
This combination of pictures created on February 13, 2024 shows (L to R) CIA Director William Burns, Mossad Director David Barnea, and Qatar's Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani. (AFP)

CIA director William Burns will hold a meeting Friday in Paris with Mossad chief David Barnea and Qatari Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani in an effort to revive talks for the release of Israeli hostages held by Hamas, two officials told The Times of Israel.

The high-level meeting will be the first since negotiations fell apart two weeks ago after Hamas responded to a proposal crafted by American, Qatari and Egyptian mediators with amendments deemed unacceptable by both the United States and Israel.

That proposal envisioned the phased release of the 128 Israeli hostages who remained in Gaza at the time, starting with the release of 33 living women, elderly and sick abductees over a six-week truce period. (The number of October 7 hostages still in Gaza is now 121, after the recovery by the IDF of seven bodies of hostages in recent days.) The second phase was supposed to see the release of the remaining hostages along with talks on a permanent ceasefire. Bodies of hostages being held by Hamas would then be released during the third phase.

Hamas’s response to the mediators’ proposals green-lit by Israel included several far-reaching amendments, including a refusal to release 33 living hostages in the first phase.

It is unclear whether Egyptian intelligence chief Abbas Kamel, as he has in the past, but Cairo will remain involved in the mediation process, a US official and an Israeli official said, confirming reporting on the Axios news site.

Egypt has fumed over recent reporting in The Times of Israel and CNN that it provided separate proposals to Israel and Hamas in the last round of negotiations, contributing to their collapse two weeks ago. Cairo has threatened to cease its mediation efforts over attempts to doubt its role — a threat made by Qatar last month as well.

The Israeli official speculated that Cairo will not walk away from the talks, as it is too tied to the conflict, given its shared border with Gaza. As long as Qatar continues to host Hamas at the request of the US, Doha will also remain involved in mediation efforts, the Israeli official said, adding that the Gulf kingdom also has the trust of the Biden administration.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, hosts Egyptian intelligence chief Abbas Kamel at his official residence in Jerusalem, May 30, 2021. (Amos Ben-Gershom/GPO)

The US and Israeli officials confirmed Burns’ trip hours after Israel’s war cabinet authorized Barnea’s negotiating team to resume indirect talks with Hamas.

During the war cabinet meeting, IDF Maj. Gen. Nitzan Alon, one of the negotiators, presented an updated plan after his previous proposal was shot down on Saturday night by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the Kan public broadcaster reported.

A source told Kan that the negotiating team did not get everything it asked for “but at least progress can be made.”

Talks have revolved around the format of a staged hostage release in return for a temporary truce in the war sparked by Hamas’s October 7 terror onslaught and the release of at least several hundred Palestinian security prisoners held by Israel.

Protesters call for the release of the Israelis held hostage by Hamas terrorists in Gaza at a demonstration outside the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, May 22, 2024. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

While Israel and Hamas were understood to have bridged many gaps, they remain fundamentally at odds regarding whether the deal will lead to a temporary ceasefire — as Israel demands in order to finish off Hamas — or a permanent end to the fighting — as Hamas seeks in order to remain as a force in Gaza.

One hundred and twenty-one hostages abducted by Hamas on October 7 remain in Gaza — not all of them alive — after 105 civilians were released from Hamas captivity during a weeklong truce in late November, and four hostages were released prior to that. Three hostages have been rescued by troops alive, and the bodies of 19 hostages have also been recovered, including three mistakenly killed by the military.

The IDF has confirmed the deaths of 37 of those still held by Hamas, citing intelligence and findings obtained by troops operating in Gaza.

One more person has been listed as missing since October 7, and their fate is still unknown.

Hamas is also holding the bodies of fallen IDF soldiers Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin since 2014, as well as two Israeli civilians, Avera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed, who are both thought to be alive after entering the Strip of their own accord in 2014 and 2015 respectively.

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