Israel under pressure as negotiations' marathon for a new swap deal continues

Dina Samak , Monday 18 Dec 2023

CIA Director William Burns traveled to Warsaw on Monday to meet with Israeli and Qatari officials to restart discussions over the Israeli captives held by Palestinian groups in Gaza, including Hamas, US officials said, according to media reports from Washington and Tel Aviv.

Israeli hostages
Families and supporters of Israeli hostages held by Hamas in Gaza hold their photos and shout slogans at a rally calling for their return, in Tel Aviv, Israel, Saturday, Dec. 16, 2023. AP


Bill Burns met with Qatari Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani and Mossad Director David Barnea to explore possibilities for a new deal.

This group previously convened twice last month in Doha, Qatar, joined by Egyptian intelligence officials.

Meanwhile, US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin is in Tel Aviv Monday and is expected to press Israel to wind down its offensive on Gaza after several allies including France, the UK, and Germany have openly joined the global calls for a ceasefire.

Israeli officials emphasized to Axios the critical importance of Burns' continued involvement in negotiations for any potential new agreement, especially after his role in brokering the previous deal that resulted in the release of over 100 captives, including several Americans, last month.

The current discussions come in the wake of another meeting between the Qatari prime minister and Mossad director in a European capital, where attempts were made to restart indirect talks between Israel and Hamas. Qatar is mediating these negotiations, and Burns' participation signifies the US's active role in facilitating the delicate diplomatic process, Axios added.

Qatar has put forth new proposals to resume the captive swap deal between Israel and Hamas, aiming to facilitate a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip, a Palestinian source told Xinhua news agency. The source revealed that a high-level Qatari delegation has been engaged in unannounced meetings with Israeli officials in Norway since 16 December. The talks, described as "exploratory," are coordinated with Egypt and seek to revive the swap deal between Israel and Hamas for a humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza, Xinhua added.

The source specified that the discussions involve the potential release of some of the remaining Israeli captives in exchange for a temporary humanitarian truce in Gaza. Additionally, Qatar is reportedly proposing the release of three senior Israeli officers in exchange for several Palestinian prisoners serving life sentences in Israeli prisons, according to the same source.

Israeli Kan News reported on Sunday, quoting Egyptian sources, that Egyptian and Qatari officials offered a new deal to Hamas in recent days, which would see the release of elderly and sick men and the remaining women and children in exchange for the release of senior Palestinian prisoners.

However, with the unstoppable Israeli aggression against Gaza reaching an agreement this time does not seem feasible.

While Hamas is seeking a ceasefire, recent public statements from several Hamas officials indicate a willingness to re-engage in negotiations for a new deal only after Israel halts its military operations in Gaza.

“We informed our position to all mediators that we will not open our minds to any proposals unless the Israeli aggression stopped in Gaza,” Hamas said in an official statement on Saturday.

On Monday, Osama Hamdan, a senior member of Hamas in Lebanon, said that the group has notified mediators in Qatar and Egypt that halting the Israeli aggression against Gaza must precede any discussions regarding prisoner exchanges. Hamdan added that the Israeli defense minister's talk about extending the conflict "aims at pacifying the domestic front."

Two Egyptian sources told Reuters that Hamas is making three main demands, including unilaterally deciding the list of captives to be released, withdrawal of Israeli troops behind pre-determined lines, and a full ceasefire.

Last month, Qatar and Egypt served as mediators in brokering a seven-day humanitarian truce. During this period, Hamas released 105 Israeli and foreign captives from Gaza in exchange for 240 Palestinians released from Israeli prisons.

Analysts do not seem to be very optimistic that Hamas would give up on its three main demands, including a total ceasefire, especially since the war cabinet in Israel is under increasing pressure to bring all the captives home now.

The Israeli army announced on Friday that three Israeli captives were mistakenly killed in Gaza by its soldiers. This incident has heightened pressure on Israel to swiftly agree with Hamas to secure the release of the more than 130 captives still held in Gaza.

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