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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

CIA director arrives in Qatar for talks on hostage releases

By Julian E. Barnes and Edward Wong

CIA Director William Burns arrived in Doha, Qatar, on Tuesday for a new round of negotiations aimed at freeing more hostages held in the Gaza Strip, according to U.S. officials.

Burns and David Barnea, the head of the Mossad, Israel’s spy service, met with Gen. Abbas Kamel, the head of Egypt’s intelligence service, and Sheik Hamad bin Jassem bin Jabr Al Thani, the prime minister of Qatar.

Both Egypt and Qatar have had prominent roles in the hostage talks. Qatar hosts Hamas’ political leadership in Doha. And Qatari officials in recent days have been speaking with Hamas representatives about how to potentially expand the hostage releases, according to an official briefed on the talks.

Qatar announced Monday that Israel and Hamas had agreed to extend a pause in fighting for two additional days to exchange more hostages and prisoners and to allow more aid to come into Gaza.

One U.S. official said Burns’ talks in Qatar would be meant to build on that agreement.

U.S. officials have been deeply involved in pushing for a deal to release hostages taken during the Hamas-led attacks on Israel on Oct. 7. Burns traveled to Doha on Nov. 9 as he and Barnea held talks with Qatari officials who have been working on the issue.

Hamas and Israel finally reached a deal on Nov. 21, and exchanges began later that week. During the first four days of the truce, 50 Israelis or dual nationals were released under the framework of the deal, and an additional 19 hostages — 17 Thais, one Filipino and one Russian Israeli dual citizen — were released through separate negotiations. In exchange for the release of the Israelis and dual nationals, Israel paused its military campaign in Gaza, allowed more aid to flow into the enclave and released some Palestinian prisoners.

Some U.S. officials have expressed hope that the temporary pause can be extended into something of a more permanent cease-fire, though Israeli officials have said their military campaign must continue.

A spokesperson for the CIA said the agency does not comment on the director’s travel.

Israel has been concerned that some of the Hamas hostage releases have separated children from their mothers or broken apart siblings. Throughout the talks this month, Israeli officials have pressed for Hamas to release entire families and over the weekend stressed to U.S. officials that they did not believe Hamas was living up to the bargain.

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