Diplomat says more work needed to reach an agreement

Progress reported toward six-week-long hostage deal as intel chiefs huddle in Cairo

Top officials from Israel, Egypt, Qatar and US discuss truce that reportedly would include guarantees the parties will continue talks toward a permanent ceasefire

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)

Israel and Hamas are making progress toward an extended truce and hostage release deal, according to two officials with direct knowledge of the talks, as key meetings were held Tuesday between the sides in the Egyptian capital.

A senior Egyptian official said mediators have achieved “relatively significant” progress in the negotiations shortly before Mossad chief David Barnea, Shin Bet chief Ronen Bar, CIA chief Bill Burns, Egyptian intel chief Abbas Kamel and Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al Thani met in Cairo to advance the talks further.

The Egyptian official said the meeting would focus on “crafting a final draft” of a six-week humanitarian pause, with guarantees that the parties would continue negotiations toward a permanent ceasefire.

A Western diplomat in the Egyptian capital also said a six-week deal was on the table but cautioned that more work is still needed to reach an agreement. The diplomat said Tuesday’s meeting would be crucial in bridging the remaining gaps.

Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the sensitive talks with the media.

While the officials did not disclose the precise details of the emerging deal — including how many hostages would be released — the sides have been discussing varying proposals for weeks.

Hili Cooper (with microphone) and Or Nohomovitch (right), tell protesters how they miss their grandfather, Amiram Cooper, held hostage in Gaza, at a rally for the release of Israelis kidnapped by Hamas terrorists, at Hostages Square in Tel Aviv, February 10, 2024. (Avshalom Sassoni/ Flash90)

Israel reportedly proposed a two-month halt in the fighting in which hostages would be freed in exchange for the release of Palestinians imprisoned by Israel, and top Hamas leaders in Gaza would be allowed to relocate to other countries.

Hamas rejected those terms. It laid out a three-phased plan of 45 days each in which the hostages would be released in stages, Israel would free hundreds of imprisoned Palestinians, including senior terrorists, and the war would be wound down with Israel withdrawing its troops. That was viewed as a nonstarter for Israel, which wants to topple Hamas before ending the war.

But US President Joe Biden signaled on Monday that a deal might be within reach.

“The key elements of the deal are on the table,” Biden said alongside visiting Jordanian King Abdullah II, adding, “There are gaps that remain.” He said the US would do “everything possible” to make an agreement happen.

Meanwhile, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian was in the midst of his own regional tour pegged at discussing the Israel-Hamas war, visiting Qatar, Syria and Lebanon, where he met with Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah for talks that his office said were aimed at securing a ceasefire in Gaza.

During the meeting with Nasrallah on Saturday, Abdollahian claimed that Iran “absolutely never sought to expand” war in the region,” saying he believes that “war is not the solution.”

This handout picture provided by the Iranian foreign ministry on February 13, 2024, shows Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian (R) meeting with Hamas’s political bureau chief Ismail Haniyeh in Doha. (Photo by Iranian Foreign Ministry / AFP)

The terror group said Amir-Abdollahian and Nasrallah discussed developments in Gaza, the situation in southern Lebanon — where Hezbollah trades fire on a daily basis with Israel across the border — and other fronts on the “axis of resistance.”

Talks are moving forward even after Israel intensified its offensive in the southern Gaza town of Rafah, where 1.4 million displaced Palestinians have fled to seek shelter from fighting elsewhere. An Israeli hostage rescue mission freed two captives held in the town along the Egyptian border, a raid that killed at least 74 Palestinians according to Hamas health officials, whose figures don’t distinguish between civilians and combatants.

Israel has made destroying Hamas’s governing and military capabilities and freeing the hostages the main goals of the war, which began when thousands of Hamas terrorists rampaged through southern Israel, killing 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and taking 253 others captive, including women and children. Tens of thousands of Israelis were displaced from destroyed communities.

The war has wrought massive destruction in the Gaza Strip, with more than 28,000 people killed, according to Gaza-based Hamas health officials. That figure cannot be independently verified and includes some 10,000 Hamas terrorists Israel says it has killed in battle. Israel also says it killed some 1,000 gunmen inside Israel on October 7.

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