CIA director to hold Hamas hostage talks Sunday in Paris

Washington — CIA Director Bill Burns was expected to meet Sunday in Paris with the director of Israel's Mossad intelligence agency, David Barnea, and Qatari Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al Thani to discuss the latest emerging proposal to free the remaining hostages held by Hamas in Gaza, according to two sources familiar with the upcoming talks.

The more than 100 remaining hostages include six Israeli-Americans.

There is no deal yet. The latest complex proposal must be reviewed by the intelligence chiefs and then be signed off on by political leadership. Brett McGurk, President Biden's national security coordinator for the Middle East, was in Cairo and Doha, Qatar, last week, along with other stops, working on those efforts.

The proposal being discussed would pause fighting for about a month while the remaining women, older individuals past military age, and wounded hostages would be released by Hamas.

In a White House briefing Friday, National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said McGurk had a "good set of discussions with counterparts in the region."

"We're hopeful about progress, but I do not expect — we should not expect any imminent developments," Kirby said. "And I certainly won't get into negotiating here from the podium or speculating about possible outcomes."

An extended pause in military operations by Israeli Defense Forces would be discussed as a possible phase-two deal in exchange for the release of the remaining men, including soldiers. The details of other aspects of a possible deal, including additional humanitarian aid for Gazans and potential Palestinian prisoner releases, would also be discussed.

The White House has not commented on details of the proposal, but did release phone call readouts Friday of Mr. Biden's conversations with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Qatari leader, Amir Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al-Thani.

The White House described the conversation with the emir as affirming 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."

On Monday, the Qatari prime minister will be in Washington for further conversations related to the hostages in Gaza, the future of the Palestinian people and other regional crises, including the very tense situation between Israeli forces and Hezbollah militants on Israel's northern border with Lebanon.

Qatar is a key diplomatic partner for the U.S., not only because it hosts U.S. Central Command forces, but also because it acts as a diplomatic intermediary, able to hand messages to Iran, the Taliban, Hamas and other entities with which the U.S. does not have regular direct contact. That Qatari contact has drawn criticism of late from some congressional Republicans.

In Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu remains under political pressure on multiple fronts, including from the families of the hostages. His publicly stated strategy has been to put military pressure on Hamas to force a hostage release, but dispatching his intelligence chief for talks indicates an openness to diplomacy.

Tensions between Israel and Qatar were recently heightened after leaked audio surfaced of Netanyahu talking down Doha's efforts while in conversation with Israeli hostage families.

The CIA does not comment on the director's travel. Burns also held hostage talks with the Mossad chief and the Qatari prime minister in Poland last month.

More than 1,200 people, most of them civilians, were killed by Hamas militants during their Oct. 7 assault on southern Israel. The Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry says more than 26,000 people have been killed in Gaza by Israel's retaliatory ground incursion and airstrikes. The Gaza Health Ministry does not differentiate between the deaths of civilians and fighters. The IDF claims it killed about 9,000 Hamas fighters, and that it has tried to limit civilian deaths.

During a week-long pause in fighting that ended Dec. 1, Hamas released more than 100 hostages, including many women and children, while in exchange Israel freed about 240 Palestinian prisoners.

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