Nov 28, 2023 - Politics & Policy

CIA director in Qatar for talks on more hostage releases

CIA director Bill Burns

CIA director Bill Burns. Photo: Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc. via Getty Images

CIA director Bill Burns will meet with Mossad director David Barnea and Qatar's prime minister in Doha on Tuesday to discuss a possible second extension of the pause in the fighting in Gaza if Hamas releases more hostages, according to a U.S. official and two sources with direct knowledge of the plan.

Why it matters: It will be just the second such meeting between the three leaders since Hamas attacked Israel on Oct. 7 — and comes as Israel and Hamas already have agreed to extend a pause in fighting for two more days in Gaza in return for the release of another 20 hostages.

  • If the extended deal holds, the pause in fighting will last through Wednesday and Hamas will have released 92 of the 240 hostages the terror group and its allies took captive on Oct. 7.
  • Israel also would release another 60 Palestinian prisoners it is holding, on top of the 150 it released under the original hostage deal.

State of play: On Tuesday, Burns plans to push for more hostage deals with Barnea and Qatari Prime Minister Mohammed Bin Abdul Rahman al-Thani during a broader discussion about the war in Gaza, the U.S. official said.

  • Abbas Kamel, the director of Egypt's intelligence service, also is attending today's meeting in Doha, a source familiar with the matter told Axios.

Behind the scenes: In recent weeks the three have played critical role in hostage talks. Neither Israel nor the U.S. has negotiated directly with Hamas; Qatar has communicated with the terror group in its role as mediator.

  • Israeli officials said that over the last few days when hostages were released, Burns and his staff were in constant communication with the joint Israeli-Qatari "situation room" in the Mossad's headquarters in Tel Aviv.
  • The Israeli officials said Burns also worked with Egypt's director of intelligence, Abbas Kamel — particularly on Saturday, amid concerns that the initial hostage deal could collapse after Hamas delayed the release of some hostages.
  • A CIA spokesperson declined to comment on Burns' plans. Qatari and Israeli officials also declined to comment.

Between the lines: As Palestinian health officials' estimates of the number killed in Gaza from Israel's bombings and ground assault have approached 15,000, President Biden's team has faced increasing pressure from within his administration and the Democratic Party to stop the fighting.

  • U.S. officials believe that seven to nine Americans are among those still held hostage, National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said Monday.
  • Three Americans who were taken hostage have been released: Judith Raanan, 59, and her daughter Natalie, 17, were released last month, and Abigail Edan — who turned 4 on Friday — was released Sunday. Abigail's parents were killed during Hamas' attack on Oct. 7.

Flashback: On Nov. 9, Burns first traveled to Doha and met with Sheikh Mohammed and Barnea. They tried to solve a key hangup: Hamas still hadn't identified who it was holding, a U.S. official said.

  • It took another two weeks of diplomatic efforts to nail down the initial deal for the release of 50 hostages in return for a four-day pause in the fighting — plus another four days to reach the extended agreement for 20 more hostages, officials said.

This story has been updated to note that Egyptian intelligence chief Abbas Kamel also is at the meeting in Doha.

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