Mossad chief David Barnea and CIA Director William Burns were in Qatar Thursday to discuss efforts to win the release of hostages in Gaza with the Qatari prime minister, according to a US official.
The same day, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group published a propaganda video of two Israeli hostages and indicated it may release them, without providing any timeline. Israeli dismissed the clips as “psychological terror.”
Barnea and Burns met with Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani, the official told the Associated Press. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive matters.
According to a Reuters report, citing a “source briefed on the meeting,” the three sat down together a day after Qatari officials met with Hamas political leaders — most of whom are based in Doha — to discuss a potential deal.
An official also confirmed the existence of such negotiations to AFP, saying that “talks have been progressing well towards a deal in the past few days.”
On Thursday evening, PIJ published an apparently coerced propaganda video featuring captives Hannah Katzir, 77, and Yagil Yaakov, 13, both kidnapped from Kibbutz Nir Oz on October 7.
The pair speak in Hebrew in the video, accusing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of causing the ongoing situation and praising the ostensibly humane behavior of their captors. The video marked the first time Islamic Jihad has posted footage of hostages it is holding.
PIJ claimed Thursday that it was prepared to release the two for “humanitarian and medical reasons” once the “appropriate measures are met.”
IDF Spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari said in response that the military “is not passing up any opportunity and we will not pass up any opportunity to bring the hostages home.”
Hagari added that it was significant to see a “sign of life” from the two captives, but slammed the video and the PIJ claim that it would release them at an unstated time as “psychological terror.”
He urged the families of the captives and the public not to listen to media reports and rumors about hostage releases or rescues, and said the IDF would update the families with any real news.
Over 240 hostages are believed held in Gaza since October 7, when thousands of Hamas-led terrorists streamed across the border and killed some 1,400 people, the majority of them civilians, in peaceful communities near the border and at a rave.
The Qatar discussions reportedly included the possibility of the release of hostages in exchange for a pause in fighting in Gaza, as well as potentially allowing fuel in, something Israel has refused to do so far, saying it is crucial for Hamas’s fighting capabilities.
Burns was in Israel earlier this week for the first time since the outbreak of war, and also stopped in the UAE and Egypt during his regional tour.
Reports swirled on Wednesday of an imminent deal brokered by Qatar for the release of 10-15 hostages in exchange for a pause of several days in the fighting. But little materialized from the reports, and Israeli officials have repeatedly sought to dismiss them.
Netanyahu rejected the reports as “idle rumors” late Wednesday night, repeating again on Thursday that there will be “no ceasefire without the release of our hostages.” His statement left open the possibility of brief humanitarian pauses, as opposed to a long-term ceasefire, as well as the potential for a deal for a certain number of hostages rather than all of them.
On Thursday, President Isaac Herzog said there was “no real proposal that is viable from Hamas’s side” on the table for the release of hostages.
“Whilst there are many, many people who are third parties who are sending optimistic messages to the newsreels, I’m saying outright: According to my knowledge, up to now, there is no real substantial information that is showing any real offer of any process on the table,” he told NBC News in an interview.
On Thursday afternoon, Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani accompanied by the Qatari prime minister traveled to Abu Dhabi, where they met with Emirati President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan.
AFP reported Wednesday that a source close to Hamas also confirmed the Qatar-brokered talks, saying that they centered on the release of a dozen hostages it is holding, including six Americans, in return for a three-day ceasefire in the Gaza Strip.
Former Mossad chief Yossi Cohen reportedly visited Qatar himself last weekend to engage in talks about a potential hostage deal, prompting Mossad to declare that “there is only one official channel that manages the release of the hostages.”
The Prime Minister’s Office later issued a statement saying that Cohen “initiated a meeting with an Arab leader with the prime minister’s approval.”
According to Israeli estimates, Hamas currently holds around 180 hostages, Palestinian Islamic Jihad holds roughly 40 hostages and unaffiliated mob families are believed to hold an additional 20, complicating negotiations significantly, as the Qatari mediators’ contacts are mostly with Hamas’s political leaders abroad, who have largely been sidelined by the terror group’s military leaders still in Gaza, an Israeli official told The Times of Israel on Tuesday.
The wealthy Gulf emirate has in recent years paid the salaries of civil servants in the Gaza Strip, provided humanitarian aid to Palestinians in Gaza and maintained open channels of communication with Hamas, which has ruled the strip since a bloody takeover in 2007.
Qatar has also hosted Hamas’s political office in its capital of Doha for over a decade. Among officials based there are former Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal, and Ismail Haniyeh, Hamas’s current chief.
Alongside being home to senior Hamas officials, Qatar also hosts the largest US military base in the Middle East.