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Gaza hostage talks led by US underway in Paris

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PARIS — A critical meeting on a potential second deal between Israel and Hamas to secure the release of 136 hostages in Gaza and allow for a pause in the war is now underway in Paris at a secret location.

CIA Chief William Burns, Mossad Chief David Barnea, Shin Bet Chief Ronen Bar, Qatari Prime Minister Mohammed Al-Thani, and head of the Egyptian Intelligence Services Abbas Kamel are now holding closed-door talks. 

It is unclear whether Maj.-Gen. (res.) Nitzan Alon, responsible for intelligence issues relating to the hostages in Gaza, is also participating in the meeting. 

The Qatari and Egyptian teams arrived at the French capital on Saturday, with the Israelis and Americans arriving on Sunday. As of Sunday noon, no special activity has been registered either near the American embassy in Paris or near the residence of the American ambassador in the city.

Israel supporters hold flags as they protest, following Hamas’ biggest attack on Israel in years, in Paris, France, October 9, 2023 (credit: REUTERS/BENOIT TESSIER)

Can Israel break hostage talks deadlock?

Barnea had reportedly traveled to Qatar several times since Oct. 7. On December 16, reports said that the chief of the Mossad met with Al-Thani in Oslo, but a later report by public broadcaster Kan said the meeting actually took place in Paris. It is not sure yet how long the parties will stay this time in the French capital for the talks.

According to KAN NEWS, the Israeli team aims at clarifying to their interlocutors that they “need to apply additional levers of pressure on Hamas” to accept what Israel would consider a reasonable deal.  

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“The purpose of this top-level meeting is to try and initiate a move; to bring up ideas, proposals, to break the deadlock,” it was said.

Reports in recent days have indicated that the sides have come closer to a deal, which should see Israel suspending fighting in Gaza for two months

Hostages will be released in two or three phases. In the first stage, fighting will be stopped for 30 days, with women, elderly men, and hostages injured or sick will be released. At the same time, Israel and Hamas will finalize the details of the second phase, during which the fighting will be suspended for an additional 30 days. 

It is unclear whether female soldiers will be released as part of the first phase or apart. The last to be released would be male soldiers and the bodies of deceased hostages.

That being said, the main hurdle for a deal is the demand by Hamas that the deal will signal the complete ending of fighting in Gaza, a condition Israel rejects categorically. The proposal that Hamas leaders will leave the Strip to other countries is apparently no longer part of the deal being discussed.

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