Mossad spy agency chief David Barnea is in Doha for talks with CIA director William Burns and top Qatari officials, The Times of Israel was told Tuesday, amid efforts to release hostages held in the Gaza Strip by Hamas and other terror groups.
Burns was said set to hold a meeting with Barnea and Qatari Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani.
Since the start of the war, Barnea has made three trips to Qatar, which has been mediating between Israel and Hamas. He has also reportedly hosted top Qatari officials in Israel.
The visit came after Israel and Hamas agreed on a two-day extension of the initial four-day truce in order to allow for the release of at least 20 more hostages. A total of some 240 hostages were abducted to Gaza on October 7, when terrorists rampaged through southern communities, murdering at least 1,200 people, mostly civilians.
The talks are focused on ensuring the smooth release of the additional 20 hostages and possibly expanding the temporary truce for more days in order to ensure the release of all the women and children held by terror groups in Gaza.
Israel believes there were up to 83 women and 10 children being held by the terror groups, excluding five female soldiers, and believes the next two days are critical in getting Hamas to extend the deal to include all of them.
The Israeli government on Monday approved the names of 50 additional female prisoners who could be considered for release if Hamas frees 20 more Israeli hostages in the coming days.
In the first four days of the truce, Hamas released a total of 30 Israeli children and 20 Israeli women, 10 of them mothers of freed kids, as well as an Israeli-Russian man set free as a gesture to Moscow, and 18 foreigners — 17 Thais and a Filipino — released as part of a separate, Iran-brokered deal.
The second reason for Barnea’s trip is to lay the groundwork for future deals that could include the hostages who did not fall under the current agreement, including men and possibly soldiers.
Qatar is a crucial communications channel with Hamas, as it hosts the terror group’s political bureau and is the primary residence of its self-exiled leader Ismail Haniyeh, as well as its former leader Khaled Mashaal. The country is one of Hamas’s main backers, transferring hundreds of millions of dollars to the terror group annually.
Qatar’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Majed Al-Ansari indicated Tuesday that negotiations for the release of the soldiers held hostage by Hamas could begin after civilian hostages are freed.
In a press briefing, Al-Ansari said, “The current priority is the release of civilian hostages, women, and children. Then will come the turn of the military ones.”
Highlighting the role of Qatar alongside Egypt in mediating for the freedom of the abductees, Al-Ansari also said that the Gulf country could not confirm the release of any additional Israeli hostages beyond the 20 slated to be released in two groups of 10 on Tuesday and Wednesday, under the terms of the two-day extension of the truce agreed to by the parties.