Updated Apr 4, 2024 - World

CIA director to travel to Cairo for Gaza hostage talks this weekend

Facebook: ?utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=   Central Intelligence Agency director William Burns testifies during the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence hearing on worldwide threats in the Hart Senate Office Building on Monday, March 11, 2024.

Central Intelligence Agency director William Burns on Capitol Hill last month. Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

CIA director Bill Burns is expected to travel to Cairo this weekend for talks with Mossad's chief and top Qatari and Egyptian officials in an effort to secure the release of hostages held by Hamas in Gaza, two sources with direct knowledge told Axios.

Why it matters: The meeting will take place after President Biden urged Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a call on Thursday "to empower his negotiators to conclude a deal without delay to bring the hostages home."

  • Biden's message to Netanyahu signaled that the president thinks Netanyahu is not doing all he can to get a hostage deal and needs to show more flexibility.

Context: Burns is expected to meet with Mossad director David Barnea, Qatari Prime Minister Mohammed Bin Abdul Rahman al-Thani and Egyptian spy chief Abbas Kamel.

What they're saying: A U.S. official said Biden's position remains that there should be a ceasefire as part of a hostage deal and it should happen immediately, and this is why the president pressed Netanyahu on this issue during the call.

Catch up quick: The current proposal being negotiated could lead to a six-week ceasefire in Gaza and the release of 40 hostages — female soldiers and other women, men over the age of 50 and men in critical medical conditions — in return for roughly 700 Palestinian prisoners, among them around 100 who are serving life sentences for killing Israelis.

  • Last week, Israel's government called its negotiations team back from Qatar after 10 days of talks reached a dead-end.
  • Shortly after the Israeli negotiations team was called back from Doha, the Israeli prime minister's office issued a statement blaming Hamas for the deadlock.
  • Israeli officials said the Biden administration's decision not to veto the UN Security Council resolution on Monday that called for a ceasefire and the release of hostages led to Hamas hardening its position.
  • The White House rejected the accusations and claimed Hamas' response was prepared before the UN vote even took place.

State of play: The Israeli negotiations team traveled to Cairo earlier this week and presented more willingness for flexibility regarding Hamas' key demand for the return of Palestinian civilians to the northern Gaza Strip, an Israeli official said in a briefing with reporters on Monday.

  • The official claimed that the issue of the return of Palestinian civilians to northern Gaza is the main point of contention in the indirect negotiations between Israel and Hamas.
  • Hamas demands the full return of Palestinian civilians to the northern Gaza Strip and a full Israeli withdrawal from the land corridor that separates the southern Gaza Strip from the northern Gaza Strip and prevents movement

Zoom in: Israel is ready for the gradual return of Palestinian civilians to the northern Gaza Strip, but opposes withdrawal of Israel's Defense Forces from the corridor and isn't prepared to allow those returning to northern Gaza not to pass an inspection to make sure that there are no members of Hamas.

  • "The parameters have been updated regarding the number of Palestinians that Israel is willing to return to the north of the Strip every day when the deal is implemented, the official said.
  • During the talks in Cairo with Israeli negotiators, the Qatari and Egyptian mediators together with a CIA team formulated an updated proposal for Hamas, Mossad said in a statement last Tuesday.
  • The mediator presented the new proposal to Hamas, but a senior official from the group said on Thursday that it has rejected it.
  • Hamas' representative in Lebanon Osama Hamdan said the negotiations are stuck because Netanyahu is sabotaging the deal and refuses to make compromises.

Go deeper: Israel agrees to increase humanitarian aid delivery to Gaza under U.S. pressure

Editor's note: This article has been updated with new details throughout.

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