23.4 C
New York
Saturday, June 15, 2024

CIA director William Burns meets Israel’s Mossad chief in Europe in renewed push to free Gaza hostages

Washington and Tel Aviv — CIA Director William Burns is meeting in Poland on Monday with the director of Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency, David Barnea, and Qatari Prime Minister Mohammad bin Abdulrahman al Thani in the latest effort to secure the release of dozens of hostages still being held captive in Gaza, according to a U.S. official familiar with the talks. The same group met twice last month, along with Egyptian intelligence officials, in Doha, Qatar.

The latest meeting follows bilateral talks between Barnea and al Thani on Friday, which marked the first attempt by both sides to restart hostage negotiations after a week-long cease-fire between Israel and Hamas collapsed on Dec 1. Burns and Egyptian intelligence leaders were briefed on those talks, according to sources familiar with the matter.

U.S. and Israeli officials have said previous talks stalled because of an impasse over the remaining female hostages, on whose release the Israelis have insisted before considering other categories, including elderly and infirm men. Hamas has claimed the women it continues to hold are IDF soldiers, which the U.S. and Israel have denied.

Freed Israeli on 54 days of terror as hostage in Gaza

Pressure has intensified on Israel to secure the release of the roughly 130 hostages still believed to be held in Gaza by Hamas and its allies after the Israel Defense Forces acknowledged that some of its soldiers had mistakenlyopened fireon three Israeli hostages Friday, as the men held up a white flag, killing them.

An IDF official said the encounter, which is under review, was “against our rules of engagement” and “very tragic.”

Burns, a former ambassador to Jordan and Russia, traveled twice to Doha last month for hostage talks. Following an initial round of negotiations, the first pause in fighting was announced by the Qataris, who serve as interlocutors for the political leadership of Hamas, on November 21. The resulting pause in fighting led to Hamas releasing more than 100 hostages and, according to the terms of the deal, Israel freeing more than 200 Palestinian prisoners.

The CIA declined to comment on the director’s travels.

There are believed to be eight Americans still held hostage in Gaza, including at least one woman. She was expected to be released in the last round of exchanges, but her condition and whereabouts remain unknown, according to U.S. officials.

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is also in the region for meetings in Israel, Bahrain, and Qatar. He is expected to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant about subsequent phases of the conflict, which American officials have said they expect to involve more targeted, intelligence-driven operations.

U.S. officials have said the Israelis expect the current phase of their operations against Hamas — which has been defined by ground operations and relentless airstrikes on targets across the densely populated Gaza Strip — to finish within a few weeks.

Barnea also met for close to two hours with national security advisor Jake Sullivan during his trip to the region last week.

“We’re doing all we possibly can to locate, identify, rescue or secure the release of all the hostages that Hamas is holding,” a senior administration official who briefed reporters on Sullivan’s meetings said Friday.

Health authorities in Gaza say almost 20,000 people have been killed in the Palestinian territory since Oct. 7, when the war was sparked by Hamas’ unprecedented terror attack on southern Israel. Israeli officials say Hamas militants killed some 1,200 people during that attack, and kidnapped roughly 240 others.

Related Articles

Latest Articles