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Israel’s Spy Chief Returns Home as Cease-Fire Talks Continue in Qatar

Warnings of imminent famine in Gaza have added urgency to efforts to broker a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas.

Mr. Barnea in a blue suit walking next to another man.

David Barnea, center. the head of Israel’s foreign spy agency, Mossad, in Tel Aviv in January. Mr. Barnea participated in cease-fire talks in Qatar on Monday.Credit…Amir Cohen/Reuters

Aaron Boxerman

The head of Israel’s delegation has returned home from cease-fire talks in Qatar, an Israeli official said on Tuesday, but talks there are continuing amid another intensive diplomatic push to secure a pause in the fighting in Gaza as famine looms.

Warnings from the United Nations that a “famine is imminent” have added urgency to efforts to broker a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas, and get more humanitarian aid into Gaza. In addition to the discussions in Qatar, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken will visit Saudi Arabia and Egypt this week to discuss postwar plans for Gaza and the wider Middle East.

Israeli negotiators arrived in Qatar’s capital, Doha, on Monday for a new round of in-person talks about a potential cease-fire and the release of hostages held by Hamas and other armed groups. Their delegation was led by David Barnea, the head of Mossad, Israel’s foreign spy agency.

Mr. Barnea returned to Israel on Tuesday morning, according to an Israeli official who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the press. Further details were not immediately available, but the Israeli news media reported that other members of Israel’s negotiating team remained in Qatar.

Officials from Qatar and Egypt have acted as intermediaries in the cease-fire discussions, in part because negotiators for Israel and Hamas do not talk directly with each other.

A spokesman for Qatar’s foreign ministry, Majed al-Ansari, confirmed that Mr. Barnea had departed but said on Tuesday that “technical teams” seeking to hash out finer details of a potential agreement were continuing to meet in Doha.

He said that while there had not yet been a breakthrough in talks, Qatar remained “cautiously optimistic.”

Two senior Israeli officials said the government had initially given its negotiating team an amorphous mandate for the latest round of talks. The team had now been authorized to go deeper into details during the talks, they said, but wasn’t given the full latitude it had requested. The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to communicate with the news media.

The Israeli officials said on Monday that a proposal being discussed included a 42-day pause in the fighting in exchange for the release of 40 of the more than 100 hostages taken from Israel and still held in Gaza by Hamas or its allies. But they emphasized that they expected it would take a long time to reach an agreement.

Last week, Hamas presented a new proposal that omitted a previous demand that Israel immediately agree to a permanent cease-fire in return for beginning an exchange of hostages and Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails, according to people familiar with the negotiations.

The Israeli officials said Hamas’s new proposal included details that were unacceptable to Israel.

For months, Hamas leaders have been publicly calling for a comprehensive cease-fire and complete Israeli withdrawal from Gaza. Israeli officials repeatedly rejected the demands and indicated that they would be open to only a temporary pause.

Cassandra Vinograd contributed reporting.

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