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CIA Director William Burns returns to Qatar in push for broader hostage deal


CIA Director William Burns returned to Qatar Tuesday for a new round of multiparty talks aimed at freeing more hostages kidnapped in Israel and held in Gaza, U.S. officials said. He is expected to meet in Doha alongside intelligence counterparts from Israel and Egypt as well as the Qatari prime minister, according to officials familiar with the matter.  

Burns’ visit, his second to Doha this month, is focused in part on building on an existing agreement in which dozens of hostages were released over a four-day pause in fighting in Gaza. Qatari officials announced Monday that the temporary pause had been extended for two days to facilitate the release of additional hostages and allow the entry of more humanitarian aid into Gaza. Israel also released 150 Palestinian women and children held in Israeli prisons — three for every one hostage— as part of the current deal. An updated deal could change the ratio of prisoner to hostage releases, according to people familiar with the talks. 

U.S. and Israeli officials are also working now to broaden the categories of hostages to include men and soldiers, U.S. and regional diplomatic sources familiar with the matter said. 

The CIA declined to comment on the director’s travels or schedule, but a U.S. official said, “Director Burns is in Doha for meetings on the Israel-Hamas conflict, including discussions on hostages.” 

A former ambassador to Jordan, Burns was previously in Doha on Nov. 9 to help reinvigorate faltering talks alongside Israel’s Mossad Director David Barnea and Qatari Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahaman Al Thani. The first deal was announced by the Qataris on Nov. 21, marking the first pause in fighting since the war began on Oct. 7.

One American hostage, four-year-old Abigail Idan, was among a group of 17 women and children released on Sunday by Hamas. Two American women were also on a list of hostages expected to be released, but U.S. officials did not have immediate updates on their status. National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said Monday the additional two-day pause could help facilitate the women’s release, and that the U.S. believes there are “eight to nine” American hostages still being held in Gaza.

American officials including President Biden have called for longer pauses in fighting to facilitate the release of as many hostages as possible and for a more robust flow of aid into Gaza, where more than 14,000 civilians have been killed and more than 2 million Palestinians face increasingly dire humanitarian conditions, according to the Gaza Health Ministry.

Senior U.S. administration officials said Tuesday that more than 2,000 aid trucks had entered Gaza since Oct. 21 to deliver food, water, medical assistance and fuel; 800 trucks went in during the first four days of the current pause. Officials also said the U.S. military would begin relief flights into North Sinai in Egypt to deliver additional aid and resources for civilians in Gaza as winter approaches.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken is also expected to travel to Tel Aviv, the West Bank and Dubai later this week, senior State Department officials said, in what will be his third trip to the region since the conflict erupted. Yesterday Blinken held calls with his Egyptian and Qatari counterparts, in which he thanked them for helping broker the current hostage deal and reiterated commitments to minimize the civilian toll in Gaza. 

 Camilla Schick contributed reporting.



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