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Breakthrough Negotiations: Close to a Resolution with Hamas for Hostage Release 2024-04-20 12:05:05

Negotiators are making significant progress towards a potential agreement with Hamas, aiming to secure the release of an initial 50 civilians. The deal involves Israel permitting additional aid, including fuel, with a temporary ceasefire coinciding with the hostage release. While no firm agreement is in place, a written draft is circulating among the involved parties. The talks, described as challenging, are facilitated by the U.S. and Qatar. White House deputy national security advisor Jon Finer noted a narrowing of differences and expressed optimism about reaching a final agreement. However, details of the developing diplomacy are kept private, considering the sensitivity of the situation. Hopes for a breakthrough were dampened by the Israeli military's actions at al-Shifa hospital, complicating negotiations. According to a source familiar with the draft, the proposal entails the release of 50 hostages on day one, accompanied by a four-day limited pause in fighting for six hours each day. If the initial release and pause proceed as planned, a second release of approximately 20-25 hostages is anticipated. White House officials declined to comment on the ongoing diplomacy, while Qatar's Prime Minister described remaining issues as minor logistical matters, expressing optimism about nearing an agreement in a press conference on Sunday in Doha.

Recent complications in the negotiations include debates over whether overhead surveillance will be conducted during the hostage releases. Israel is pressing for Hamas to account for the captives it holds, including those affiliated with other militant groups like Islamic Jihad, as the estimated total exceeds 200 hostages. Two individuals believed to be hostages, Noa Marciano and Yehudit Weiss, were discovered dead near the al-Shifa hospital complex in Gaza. The aftermath of the Oct. 7 attack in Israel, carried out by Hamas and other militants, continues with the identification of the victims. White House deputy national security advisor Jon Finer emphasized the urgency, acknowledging the dangers in Gaza and the time imperative for resolving the situation. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu mentioned strong indications of hostages in al-Shifa hospital, a factor in the IDF's decision to enter. However, he added that if hostages were present, they were removed. The U.S. has not provided intelligence confirming this, but last week, downgraded intelligence indicated that al-Shifa served as a "command and control node" for Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Despite differing views, Finer affirmed the U.S. confidence in its assessment, with the Israeli military still utilizing the al-Shifa facility for information gathering.

Over the weekend in Manama, Brett McGurk, President Biden's top Mideast adviser, characterized the hostage talks as intensive and ongoing. Following this, he traveled to Doha for discussions with the Qatar Prime Minister. In public statements, McGurk echoed Israel's call for the release of a "large number of hostages" to facilitate a "significant pause in fighting" and a "massive" surge in humanitarian relief. He acknowledged Hamas' demand for fuel and humanitarian supplies but didn't publicly address an earlier request from Hamas for the release of an unspecified number of Palestinian women and children from Israeli detention centers. McGurk emphasized that the responsibility lies with Hamas to release all hostages, including women, children, toddlers, and babies. CIA director Bill Burns, who has stayed engaged after recent meetings, and President Biden, who made calls to Qatar's Emir, suggest a close resolution. Qatar, leveraging its ties with Hamas, is mediating, with the U.S. facilitating proposals between a tight circle in Doha and leaders in Gaza and Israel's war cabinet led by Netanyahu.

In conclusion, the hostage negotiations involving Hamas, Israel, and the U.S. are at a critical juncture. Brett McGurk, President Biden's top Mideast adviser, described the talks as intensive and ongoing, emphasizing the need for a substantial release of hostages to pave the way for a significant pause in fighting and a surge in humanitarian relief. The intricate discussions involve complex demands from both sides, including Hamas' request for fuel and humanitarian supplies. McGurk highlighted the responsibility on Hamas to release all hostages, including women and children. The involvement of CIA director Bill Burns and President Biden's direct engagement with Qatar's Emir signal a potential resolution on the horizon. As Qatar leverages its relationship with Hamas to mediate, the U.S. facilitates proposals between the parties involved. The situation remains fluid, and the international community closely watches for a breakthrough in the ongoing negotiations.

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