Biden urges Egypt, Qatar to press Hamas to come to agreement for Israeli captives in Gaza

AP , Saturday 6 Apr 2024

US President Joe Biden on Friday wrote to the leaders of Egypt and Qatar, calling on them to press Hamas for a hostage deal with Israel, according to a senior administration official, one day after Biden called on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to redouble efforts to reach a cease-fire in the six-month-old war on Gaza.

File photo: US President Joe Biden speaks at an event in Raleigh, North Carolina, US, March. 26, 2024. AP


The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the private letters, said Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, will meet Monday with family members of some of the estimated 100 captives who are believed to still be in Gaza.

The letters to Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi and Qatar’s ruling emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, come as Biden has deployed CIA Director William Burns to Cairo for talks this weekend about the captive crisis.

David Barnea, the head of Mossad, Israel’s spy agency, and negotiators from Egypt and Qatar are expected to attend. The Hamas side of the talks is indirect, with proposals relayed through third parties to Hamas leaders in the besieged Gaza Strip.

White House officials say negotiating a pause in Israel's Gaza war to facilitate the exchange of captives held in Gaza for Palestinian prisoners held in Israel is the only way to put a temporary cease-fire into effect and boost the flow of badly humanitarian aid into the territory.

Biden, in his conversation with Netanyahu, “made clear that everything must be done to secure the release of hostages, including American citizens,” and discussed “the importance of fully empowering Israeli negotiators to reach a deal,” according to the official. The first phase of the proposed deal would secure the release of women and elderly, sick and wounded captives.

White House national security spokesman John Kirby said earlier Friday that Biden underscored the need to get a hostage deal done during the Thursday conversation with Netanyahu that largely focused on Israeli airstrikes that killed seven aid workers with World Central Kitchen.

Biden had expressed optimism for a temporary cease-fire and a captive deal during the runup to the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, but an agreement never materialized.

The White House said in a statement Thursday following Biden’s call with Netanyahu that the US president said reaching an “immediate cease-fire” in exchange for hostages was “essential” and urged Israel to reach such an accord “without delay.”

White House officials acknowledge that Biden has become increasingly frustrated with Israel’s prosecution of a grinding war that has killed more than 33,000 Palestinians and reduced most of the territory to rubble.

Israel's war on the Gaza Strip, experts say, is among the deadliest and most destructive in recent history. Within two months, researchers say, Israel already has wreaked more destruction than the razing of Syria’s Aleppo between 2012 and 2016, Ukraine’s Mariupol or, proportionally, the Allied bombing of Germany in World War II. It has killed more civilians than the US-led coalition did in its three-year campaign against the Islamic State group.

The White House has maintained its support for Israel despite a mounting civilian death toll and looming famine in Gaza due to Israel's siege on the territory. The unwavering support has triggered growing domestic and international criticism of Israel's conduct in Gaza.

But the pressure on Biden has only mounted since this week’s airstrikes that killed the World Central Kitchen workers.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Friday that the World Central Kitchen incident is part of a broader problem with how the Israeli military is carrying out the war. Nearly 200 humanitarian aid workers have been killed in Gaza since the start of Israel's war on the strip.

“But the essential problem is not who made the mistakes, it is the military strategy and procedures in place that allow for those mistakes to multiply time and time again,” he said. “Fixing those failures requires independent investigations and meaningful and measurable change on the ground.”

*This story was edited by Ahram Online

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