Scoop: Mossad chief visits Qatar for talks on hostages held by Hamas in Gaza
Mossad director David Barnea visited Qatar over the weekend and met senior Qatari officials to discuss their efforts in trying to secure the release of the more than 235 Israeli and foreign nationals who were taken hostage and brought to Gaza during the Oct. 7 terrorist attack, two sources with direct knowledge of the issue told me.
Why it matters: Qatar is currently the main mediator between Israel and Hamas over the issue of the hostages. The Biden administration is also working with Qatar on this issue because several of the hostages Hamas is holding are Americans.
Behind the scenes: The Israeli war cabinet last Thursday decided to begin its expanded ground operation in Gaza after Qatar's mediation didn't bear any fruit, two Israeli officials said.
- Israel made the decision in part because Hamas refused to give Israel via Qatar a list of names of all the hostages it is holding, the officials said.
- Hamas told the Qatari officials it is still in the process of finding out where all the hostages are located and their identities. But the feeling in Jerusalem was that this was just a tactic to buy time and prevent an Israeli ground operation, the Israeli officials said.
Barnea's trip to Doha took place after the ground operation started.
- He resumed the hostage talks, which two sources brief on the issue said were positive and constructive but haven't led to a breakthrough.
- A third source briefed on the talks said progress had been made. The Mossad is Israel's foreign intelligence agency.
- The Israeli Prime Minister's Office declined to comment. The Qatari Foreign Ministry didn't immediately respond to questions.
- A Hamas spokesperson didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.
State of play: Since the ground incursion started late Friday, both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Minister of Defense Yoav Gallant have said publicly that increasing the military pressure on Hamas could get the group to release the hostages.
- Hamas on Monday released a video of three hostages: Yelena Tropenov, Daniel Aloni and Rimon Kirsht.
- Aloni, who speaks in the video, blames Netanyahu for abandoning them when the attack happened and after they were taken hostage.
- "Free us now. Release their civilians. Release their prisoners. Release us now," Aloni yells in the Hamas video.
The Israeli Prime Minister's Office called the video "cruel Hamas-ISIS psychological warfare".
- Netanyahu said in a statement that he is "doing everything to bring all the hostages home."
Where it stands: Representatives of the families of the hostages who met with Netanyahu and Gallant in recent days said they want the government to agree to an "everyone for everyone" deal with Hamas.
- As part of such a deal, Hamas would release all the hostages in return for the release of the more than 6,000 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons. It's a demand Hamas has made as well.
- Israeli officials said this formula is not being considered by the government at this point.
The big picture: Israeli special forces on Monday conducted a ground operation in Gaza and rescued an Israeli soldier who was kidnapped by Hamas, the IDF and Shin Bet intelligence agency said in a statement. The soldier, Ori Magidish, is in good health and met with her family, the statement added.
- Prior to the Israeli ground operation, Hamas released a total of four hostages, including two elderly Israeli women and two Americans.
Secretary of State Tony Blinken on Monday spoke to Qatari Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said in a statement.
- Blinken during the call "reiterated his thanks to the Qatari government for its work to secure the exit of U.S. citizens and foreign nationals from Gaza, the release of hostages held by Hamas, including two American citizens, and continued efforts to prevent the conflict from spreading