Jan 29, 2024 - World

Qatar PM: "Progress" made in Gaza hostage talks

 Qatari Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani in Davos on Jan. 16.

Qatari Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani in Davos on Jan. 16. Photo: Halil Sagirkaya/Anadolu via Getty Images

Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani said on Monday that U.S., Qatari, Egyptian and Israeli officials made "progress" this weekend in the talks aimed at securing the release of hostages held by Hamas in Gaza.

The big picture: Qatari and Egyptian mediators plan to present Hamas with a framework this week for negotiations over a three-phase deal. The first phase would include a six-week pause in fighting and the release of roughly 40 Israeli hostages held by Hamas in exchange for Israel freeing a significant number of Palestinian prisoners, according to Israeli and Qatari officials.

  • "We will pass the proposal to Hamas and we hope they will react positively and agree to negotiate in a constructive way," the Qatari prime minister told NBC News' Andrea Mitchell and the Washington Post's David Ignatius at an event hosted by the Atlantic Council on Monday.
  • "[W]e are in a better place than we where we were a few weeks ago," he added.

Driving the news: The Qatari prime minister met with the chiefs of the CIA, Israel's Mossad, and Egyptian intelligence service in Paris over the weekend in an effort to reach a breakthrough in the hostage deal talks, which had stalled over significant gaps between Israel and Hamas.

  • Hamas is demanding the Israeli government commit to ending the war as part of any deal — a red line for Israel.

Details: Gaps remain but the officials agreed to a framework for negotiations over a three-phase deal.

  • The first phase would include a six-week ceasefire and the release of a set number of Palestinian prisoners in exchange for Hamas freeing 35 to 40 Israeli hostages, including women, men over the age of 60 and those with serious medical conditions, according to Israeli and Qatari officials.
  • The terms of the following two stages haven't been agreed on but the second phase is expected to include the release of Israeli soldiers and civilian men under the age of 60 from captivity in Gaza, according to a senior Israeli official.
  • The third phase would include the return of bodies of hostages being held by Hamas, the official added.

For each stage, a different "key" would be determined for the number of Palestinian prisoners to be released for each Israeli hostage freed.

  • The duration of the truce in the second and third stages has not yet been defined and will be determined in the negotiations, but senior Israeli officials estimated that it would likely be several more weeks of a pause in the fighting in addition to the original six-week ceasefire.
  • "The goal is to enter phase A with a statement on phases B and C without closing them down in detail," a senior Israeli official said.

What they're saying: Secretary of State Tony Blinken that the proposal on the table regarding the hostage talks "is a strong one and a compelling one that offers hope. "

  • "Hamas will have to make its own decisions. There is an alignment among the countries involved that this is a strong proposal," he said at a press conference alongside NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg on Monday.

What's next: A meeting will be held in Cairo with Hamas officials in the coming days to discuss the updated outline for the negotiations, a Qatari official and an Israeli official told Axios.

  • "Now the Qataris' big test is to get Hamas to say yes and agree to start talking about the details," said an Israeli official.
  • The Israeli war cabinet, meanwhile, is expected to discuss the details of the outline on Monday night.

Between the lines: There have been heightened tensions between Qatar and Israel in recent weeks, with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu criticizing the Gulf country for not putting more pressure on Hamas.

  • Doha last week called Netanyahu's criticism "destructive" to the talks.
  • The Qatari prime minister added on Monday that Doha's "role is to press the parties with words, meetings and proposals. Beyond that, we don't think Qatar is a superpower that can force something on one of the parties."
  • "We are trying to bridge the gaps. Our way worked in the previous deal."

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Editor's note: This story has been updated with Blinken's comments.

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