Updated Dec 16, 2023 - World

Scoop: Israel's Mossad chief met Qatari PM to resume hostage talks

Israel's Mossad director David Barnea speaks at an event on Sept. 10, 2023. Photo: Gil Cohen-Magen/AFP via Getty Images

Israel's Mossad spy agency director David Barnea met with Qatari Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani on Friday night in Europe to discuss resuming negotiations to secure the release of hostages held by Hamas in Gaza, according to two sources familiar with the meeting.

Why it matters: It was the first meeting between senior Israeli and Qatari officials since the collapse of the seven-day ceasefire that led to the expansion of the Israeli military operation to southern Gaza.

  • One source said the talks are "just a beginning" and stressed the process is going to be "long, difficult and complicated."
  • CIA director Bill Burns and Egyptian intelligence chief Abbas Kamel were briefed on the meeting and are helping in the renewed push for a hostage deal, the sources added.
  • The previous deal was derailed two weeks ago after Hamas refused to release the remaining women it is holding hostage. Hamas blamed Israel for the collapse and said the women Israel proposed be released were IDF soldiers.

Catch up quick: On Friday, the IDF announced three Israeli hostages were mistakenly killed in Gaza by IDF soldiers. The incident is putting further pressure on Israel to come to an agreement with Hamas to release the more than 130 hostages still held in Gaza.

  • The IDF said the three might have managed to escape or were abandoned by their Hamas captives during fierce fighting in northern Gaza.
  • Shortly after the IDF statement, several family members of hostages still held by Hamas publicly called on the government to present a new plan for a new deal to secure their release as soon as possible.
  • More than 100 hostages were released in November as part of a deal that paused the fighting in Gaza for seven days.

Behind the scenes: Qatari mediators contacted Israeli officials last weekend to see whether there was interest in relaunching indirect talks with Hamas over a new deal, Axios reported earlier this week.

  • The mediators checked with the Israeli negotiating team about whether Israel would agree to a deal that would allow the release of the remaining female hostages in exchange for a pause in fighting lasting longer than a day, according to Israeli sources.
  • One source said such a deal could include "humanitarian elements," such as the release of elderly men and those with serious medical conditions, or the release of hostages who are seriously wounded.
  • Last weekend after the initial Qatari proposal, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the members of the war cabinet decided against the Mossad chief traveling to Qatar.
  • After a backlash to the decision, Netanyahu changed course and allowed Barnea to engage with the Qataris.
  • Israel expressed willingness to discuss a new agreement that would include the release of the remaining women they'd asked for in the previous deal, an Israeli source said.

State of play: On Thursday, White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan met with Barnea in Tel Aviv for two hours and discussed the efforts to resume talks on the release of hostages, the Mossad said in a statement.

  • A senior U.S. official told reporters in a briefing that the U.S. and Israel are trying to explore ways to release hostages. He said there are several ideas and initiatives on how to do it but it is still unclear whether any would gain traction.
  • The Israeli Prime Minister's office declined to comment.

Editor's note: This story has been updated with additional details.

Go deeper