More than 200 people are believed to have been taken to Gaza after Hamas’ attack on Israel on October 7.
Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani has said only “minor” challenges remain in reaching a deal to free some of the more than 200 people taken captive to Gaza after the Hamas attack on Israel last month. past.
Sheikh Mohammed, a former foreign minister, gave few additional details or a timeline.
“The challenges remaining in the negotiations are very small compared to the bigger challenges. They are more logistical; they are more practical,” he said at a joint press conference with the European Union’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell.
Qatar has been acting as an intermediary in negotiations to free those captured in Hamas’ surprise attack on Israel on October 7, in which at least 1,200 people were killed.
Following the attack, Israel launched a relentless air and ground campaign in the besieged Gaza Strip, bombing the densely populated territory in an effort to destroy Hamas. More than 13,000 people have died in the weeks since.
Borrell, who was due to meet with the emir of Qatar before traveling to Jordan, called for the “unconditional release” of all captives and condemned Hamas for the attack.
“There is no hierarchy between horrors, one horror does not justify another horror,” he said, urging an end to the escalation of violence and the creation of “sustainable peace” in the region.
The Reuters news agency reported on November 15 that Qatari mediators had been seeking a deal between Israel and Hamas to exchange 50 captives in exchange for a three-day ceasefire that would help boost emergency aid shipments to civilians. from Gaza, citing an official briefed on the talks. .
At the time, the official said the broad outlines had been agreed upon, but that Israel was still negotiating the details.
On Saturday, the Washington Post reported that a tentative deal had been reached to free women and children among the captives in exchange for a pause in fighting.
Citing anonymous sources, the newspaper said all sides would halt combat operations for at least five days and that captives would be released in small groups.
The US newspaper’s report was denied by the White House, which said discussions about a deal were continuing. On Sunday, US President Joe Biden told reporters that he was not in a position to say when the captives might be freed. “I want to make sure they’re out and then I’ll tell them,” he said at an event in Virginia.
Sheikh Mohammed said on Sunday that such reports were “counterproductive” and that the negotiation process went through ups and downs.
“I think I’m more confident now that we’re close enough to reach an agreement that can bring people back home safely,” he said.
The talks continue as Israel prepares to expand its ground offensive against Hamas into the southern half of Gaza.
The United States, Israel’s main ally, has urged caution as Gaza’s 2.3 million residents struggle to find a safe place to stay out of the line of fire.
The civilian death toll in Gaza was “staggering and unacceptable,” United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on Sunday as he renewed his call for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire.
Israel has so far rejected all calls for a ceasefire.