Qatar 'painfully aware of suffering of remaining hostages'

Qatari PM meets with Israeli hostages’ families in Doha — report

Al Thani speaks with relatives of abductees held by Hamas, claims negotiations on release more difficult after killing of Arouri in Beirut last week

Qatar's Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani in Doha, Qatar, October 13, 2023. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, Pool)
Qatar's Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani in Doha, Qatar, October 13, 2023. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, Pool)

Qatari Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani met with the families of Israeli hostages held by Hamas on Saturday, after the relatives of at least six abductees traveled to Doha on Friday in a bid to revive talks to return their loved ones from the Gaza Strip, according to a new report.

Thani told the families talks with Hamas were more complicated by the killing in Beirut on Tuesday of the terror group’s deputy leader Saleh al-Arouri and several other senior members of the Gaza-ruling group, in a strike that has widely been attributed to Israel, according to an Axios report Saturday.

Following Arouri’s assassination, Hamas reportedly froze negotiations via Qatar and Egypt, though Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday claimed to the relatives of hostages that talks for their return were ongoing.

Axios reported that the Qatari PM told the visiting families that “it is more difficult to talk to Hamas after what happened in Beirut,” citing a Qatari official.

The families of the six Israeli hostages held by Hamas traveled to Doha, which also hosts Hamas leaders, on Friday for meetings with officials.

The trip marked the first time that families of the hostages have visited Qatar, which has been responsible for mediating hostage negotiations between Israel and Hamas following the October 7 atrocities, when Palestinian terrorists from Gaza rampaged through southern Israeli communities, massacring some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and kidnapping around 240.

The families of the hostages met with Qatari Minister of State at the Foreign Ministry Mohammed bin Abdulaziz Al-Khulaifi, who heads the Qatari negotiations team, on Saturday and later with the Qatari premier, according to the report.

Qatar is “painfully aware of the suffering of the remaining hostages and their loved ones,” the Qatari official told Axios.

It is believed that 136 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 brokered by Qatar. Four hostages were released prior to that, and one was rescued by troops. The bodies of eight hostages have also been recovered.

The Israel Defense Forces has confirmed the deaths of 25 of those still held by Hamas, citing new intelligence and findings obtained by troops operating in Gaza.

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.

Qatar and Egypt have been trying to broker a new deal that would potentially see dozens more hostages freed in exchange for a pause in fighting.

“We have engaged directly with the hostages’ families to share as much information as possible, and to assure them that Qatar is committed to using every resource to secure their release. We will continue to engage with these families,” the official said, according to Axios.

“We are using every possible channel, and collaborating closely with our counterparts in the US and Israel…but Qatar is a mediator. It does not control Hamas,” the official said.

The official noted it was “increasingly difficult” to maintain the channels of communication open with Hamas following the “escalation of bombardment in Gaza and elsewhere, which candidly complicates the hostage negotiations.”

The official said Qatar would continue its communication with the hostages’ families.

Israel has remained mum on responsibility for the strike in Beirut Tuesday despite widespread speculation that it was behind the killing of Arouri.

On Wednesday, an Israeli official argued the fact that Qatar did not respond publicly to the strike was a positive sign for the continuation of talks.

“If they don’t announce anything, that is ultimately something optimistic,” said the official.

Last weekend, Qatari mediators reportedly told Israel that Hamas agreed “in principle” to resume negotiations for the release of more hostages in exchange for a truce of up to a month in the Gaza Strip, according to reports in the Hebrew-language media.

According to Walla, the talks had remained centered on a proposal presented by Mossad chief David Barnea that would include the release of some 40 hostages, including women still held by Hamas, men over 60 and those with serious medical issues. In return for the hostages, Israel would halt military operations in Gaza for up to one month and release a number of Palestinian security prisoners.

A senior Hamas official went on to dampen optimism about a deal, insisting that the terror group was only interested in a deal that included a permanent ceasefire.

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