High-level talks in Paris, focused on negotiating an agreement to suspend fighting in the Gaza Strip and release hostages held by Hamas, were “constructive,” the Israeli prime minister's office said Sunday. but added that they continued to exist “important gaps“.
The Prime Minister's Office Benjamin Netanyahu declared that talks would continue this week, signaling at least the possibility of moving toward an agreement as the fighting heads into its fourth month.
A person briefed on the talks said Israel had submitted a proposal to Egypt and Qatar -two countries that have acted as intermediaries since the beginning of the fighting- to get it to Hamaswhich sparked fighting with a deadly cross-border attack on October 7.
Israeli protesters, including relatives of hostages held in Gaza since the Hamas attacks on October 7, take part in a demonstration aimed at blocking the entry of aid trucks into Palestinian territory, on the Israeli side of the Kerem Shalom border crossing with the southern Gaza Strip. Photo by Menahem Kahana / AFP.
Enough progress was made during the talks that Egypt and Qatar considered it worth taking the new proposal to Hamas, said the person, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive diplomacy.
The director of the CIA participated in Sunday's meeting, William J. Burns; Israeli spy chief David Barnea; the head of the Shin Bet, Israel's internal security agency, Ronen Bar; the Prime Minister of Qatar, Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim al-Thani, and the Minister of Intelligence of Egypt, General Abbas Kamel.
Negotiators were scheduled to leave Paris, but talks were expected to continue in the coming days in the hope that the new proposal would break the logjam and get negotiations underway in earnest, the person said without revealing any details about the proposal.
Israeli leaders have been vowing for months to continue their war against Hamas until the organization's military capabilities and its ability to govern Gaza are dismantled and it no longer poses a threat.
But Hamas leaders have publicly conditioned any new release of hostages to an Israeli commitment to a complete cessation of the war.
In recent days, U.S.-led negotiators had drawn up a draft written agreement that merged proposals offered by Israel and Hamas into a basic framework under which Israel would suspend its war in Gaza for about two months in exchange for the staggered release of more than 100 hostages that Hamas continues to hold.
Efforts to free more hostages have stalled since an initial deal in November led to a week-long pause in fighting and the release of more than 100 hostages by Hamas and some 240 Palestinian prisoners and detainees held by Hamas. From Israel.
About 136 people taken hostage during the Oct. 7 attack remain unaccounted for, although about two dozen are presumed dead, according to Israeli officials.
Around 1,200 people were killed in the attacks, according to Israeli authorities.
There was no immediate information about where and when new talks would be held, or who might participate in them.
But the push to reach a new deal comes as the hostages' families and their supporters have increased pressure on the Israeli government to prioritize their release over continued fighting, and as food and water worsens the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, where, according to health authorities, people have died more than 26,000 people since the beginning of the Israeli military response.
An intense debate is raging in Israel over whether its advancing military offensive is bringing a hostage deal closer by putting pressure on Hamas leaders in Gaza or pushing away the prospects for a deal and endangering the captives.
Yoav Gallant, Israeli Defense Minister and a key member of the country's five-person war cabinet, told the reserve troops he met with on Sunday:
“Thanks to what they have done and continue to do, these days we are carrying out a negotiation process for the release of the hostages,” adding that Israel would intensify its military pressure.
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