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Mossad chief travels to Qatar as hostage-release talks resume

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“There are still gaps between the sides,” the Prime Minister’s Office said.

(JNS)

Mossad director David Barnea traveled to Doha, Qatar, over the weekend to jump-start negotiations to secure the release of 120 Israeli hostages the Hamas terrorist group is holding in the Gaza Strip.

Upon his return, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office announced that a negotiating team would be dispatched this week to continue the talks.

“It should be emphasized that there are still gaps between the sides,” according to a statement issued by the Prime Minister’s Office.

Nevertheless, Hamas has now dropped its key demand that Jerusalem commit upfront to ending the war as part of any deal, the Associated Press reported on Saturday, citing anonymous Egyptian and Hamas officials.

Mediators are working to revive U.S. President Joe Biden’s phased deal proposal presented in May, which calls for an initial “full and complete” six-week ceasefire during which dozens of Israeli hostages—including women, the elderly and the sick—would be exchanged for hundreds of Palestinian terrorists held in Israeli prisons.

During this first stage, Israeli forces would withdraw from densely populated areas of Gaza and displaced Palestinians would return to their homes in the northern Strip.

Meanwhile, Israel and Hamas would negotiate the terms of the second phase in which the remaining male hostages would be freed in return for Jerusalem releasing additional Palestinian terrorists.

In the third phase, the bodies of dead Israeli civilians and soldiers would be returned to the Jewish state, and the reconstruction of Gaza would begin.

Hamas is still seeking “written guarantees” from mediators that Israel would continue to negotiate a long-term truce if and when the first phase goes into effect, AP reported.

On Thursday, Netanyahu and Biden discussed by phone modifications made by Hamas to the hostages-for-ceasefire framework.

The prime minister “reiterated the principles that Israel is committed to, especially its commitment to end the war only after all of its goals have been achieved,” according to an Israeli readout of the call.

Netanyahu has defined his government’s war goals as returning all of the hostages, eliminating Hamas’s military and governing capabilities and ensuring that Gaza will never again constitute a threat.

An anonymous senior Israeli official subsequently told the Axios news outlet that while “important progress has been made, there is still a significant way to go with serious challenges.”

As Israel and Hamas enter renewed indirect talks, “it will be tough and not short,” the official said, adding that it could take “several weeks to reach an agreement if we move to detailed negotiations.”

Jerusalem had immediately accepted the original Biden proposal, which Netanyahu stressed does not call for a permanent end to the war sparked by Hamas’s Oct. 7 massacre of some 1,200 people.

An Israeli official said on June 17 that in its initial reply to the proposal, Hamas made “substantial changes” to the outline, which the U.N. Security Council had formally approved a week earlier.

The terror group demanded a “permanent” end to the conflict, the full withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza and financial guarantees that the Strip would be rebuilt.

Image: Demonstrators outside the Kirya military headquarters in Tel Aviv call for the release of Israeli hostages held by Hamas in the Gaza Strip, May 16, 2024. Photo by Tomer Neuberg/Flash90.

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