May 23, 2024 - World

CIA director to travel to Europe in effort to revive Gaza hostage-ceasefire talks

Relatives and supporters raise placards bearing messages and portraits of Israeli hostages

Relatives and supporters raise placards bearing messages and portraits of Israeli hostages held in Gaza during a rally calling for their release in Jerusalem on May 22, 2024. Photo: Ahmad Gharabli/AFP via Getty Images)

CIA director Bill Burns is expected to travel to Europe in the coming days for a meeting with the head of Israel's Mossad and the prime minister of Qatar in an effort to revive talks to release hostages held in Gaza and establish a ceasefire in the enclave, according to three U.S. and Israeli officials.

Why it matters: Indirect negotiations between Israel and Hamas over a possible hostage deal that could lead to a temporary ceasefire in Gaza reached a deadlock two weeks ago after several days of talks in Cairo and Doha.

  • President Biden, Burns, national security advisor Jake Sullivan and other senior U.S. officials have been personally involved in the efforts to reach a deal for the release of hostages taken by Hamas when it attacked Israel on Oct. 7.
  • The White House sees a hostage deal as the only viable path to a ceasefire in Gaza, and possibly ending a war that has become a political problem for Biden ahead of the presidential election.
  • Burns is expected to meet in Europe with Mossad director David Barnea and Qatari prime minister Mohammed Bin Abdul Rahman al-Thani, according to third source with knowledge of the meeting.

Driving the news: The Israeli war cabinet on Wednesday approved expanding the mandate of the Israeli negotiations team, Israeli officials said.

  • Israeli negotiators developed in recent days a new proposal to renew the hostage talks, which includes some compromises in Israel's position compared to the last round of negotiations in Cairo.
  • The new Israeli proposal includes a willingness to further compromise on the number of living hostages to be released on humanitarian grounds in the first phase of the deal, Israeli officials said.

Flashback: During the last round of talks in Cairo, Israel demanded that Hamas release 33 living hostages — women, female soldiers, men over 50 and men who are in serious health condition — in the first phase of the deal.

  • Hamas claims only about 18 hostages fall into these categories. It offered to return the bodies of about 15 dead hostages to reach the number Israel demanded.
  • The Israeli proposal also included a willingness to discuss Hamas' demand for "sustainable calm" in the Gaza Strip in the second phase of the deal, which includes the release of all men and soldiers captured by Hamas.

State of play: It is not clear whether Egyptian officials will attend the meeting in Europe, officials say.

  • The Egyptians were furious about a story published by CNN earlier this week that accused them of giving Israel and Hamas different proposals during the last round of talks, leading to its failure.
  • But one U.S. official said the Egyptians remain very involved in the negotiations along with the Qataris and Israelis.

Editor's note: This story was updated with comment from a U.S. official about Egypt's continued involvement in the hostage and ceasefire talks.

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