Jan 26, 2024 - World

Biden speaks to Qatar, Egypt leaders ahead of key meeting on Gaza hostage talks

President Biden in the Oval Office on Dec. 9, 2023. Photo: Doug Mills-Pool/Getty Images

President Biden in the Oval Office on Dec. 9, 2023. Photo: Doug Mills-Pool/Getty Images

President Biden spoke separately on Friday with the Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to discuss the efforts to secure the release of the hostages held by Hamas in Gaza, the White House said.

Why it matters: The calls are part of a push by Biden personally and his team for a new hostage deal that could lead to a two-month pause in the fighting in Gaza and open the way for ending the war.

  • Qatar and Egypt are the key mediators in the indirect talks between Israel and Hamas over a possible hostage deal.

Driving the news: Biden made the calls ahead of a critical meeting in Europe on Sunday between CIA director Bill Burns, the Qatar prime minister and the Egyptian and Israeli spy chiefs that is aimed at reaching a breakthrough in the negotiations.

  • Brett McGurk, Biden's senior Middle East adviser, visited Cairo and Doha earlier this week to discuss the status of the negotiations.

What they're saying: Biden and the Qatari emir "affirmed that a hostage deal is central to establishing a prolonged humanitarian pause in the fighting and ensure additional life-saving humanitarian assistance reaches civilians in need throughout Gaza," the White House said in a readout of call.

  • "They underscored the urgency of the situation, and welcomed the close cooperation among their teams to advance recent discussions," the readout added.
  • White House National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby told reporters on Friday the U.S. is "hopeful" about the progress in the talks but "doesn't expect imminent developments" towards a deal.

State of play: A senior Israeli official said the negotiations are difficult, complex and slow but it seems both sides want to make progress and succeed in reaching an agreement.

  • The official said the aim of the meeting in Europe on Sunday is to coordinate and synchronize between the two mediators and find a way to make progress on the two main sticking points.
  • Hamas' demand that Israel commit to ending the war after the hostages are released is a red line for Israel, the official added.
  • There's also a huge gap between the number of Palestinian prisoners Hamas wants to be released and the number Israel is willing to release, according to the Israeli official.

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Editor’s note: This story has been updated with additional details from the calls.

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