Qatar’s Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani has said that only “minor” challenges remain to a deal to release some of the more than 200 people taken captive into Gaza after Hamas’s attack on Israel last month.
Sheikh Mohammed, a former foreign minister, gave few additional details or a timeline.
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“The challenges that remain in the negotiations are very minor compared to the bigger challenges. They are more logistical; they are more practical,” he told 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 taken captive in Hamas’s surprise attack on Israel on October 7, in which at least 1,200 people were killed.
After the attack, Israel launched a relentless air and ground campaign on the besieged Gaza Strip, bombarding the densely-populated territory in an effort to destroy Hamas. More than 13,000 people have been killed in the weeks since.
Borrell, who was due to meet Qatar’s emir before travelling to Jordan, called for the “unconditional release” of all captives and condemned Hamas for the attack.
“There’s no hierarchy between horrors, one horror doesn’t justify another horror,” he said, urging an end to the escalating 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 return for a three-day ceasefire that would help boost emergency aid shipments to Gaza civilians, citing an official briefed on the talks.
At the time, the official said general outlines had been agreed, but that Israel was still negotiating details.
On Saturday, the Washington Post newspaper reported a tentative agreement had been reached to free the women and children among the captives in exchange for a pause in fighting.
Citing unnamed sources, the newspaper said all parties would halt combat operations for at least five days with the captives to be released in small groups.
The US newspaper’s report was denied by the White House, which said discussions on a deal were continuing. On Sunday, United States President Joe Biden told reporters 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 you,” he said at an event in Virginia.
Sheikh Mohammed said on Sunday that such reports were “counterproductive” and that the negotiating process went through ups and downs.
“I think that I’m now more confident that we are close enough to reach a deal that can bring the people safely back to their homes,” he said.
The talks are continuing as Israel prepares to expand its ground offensive against Hamas into Gaza’s southern half.
The US, Israel’s main ally, has urged caution, as Gaza’s 2.3 million people struggle to find anywhere safe 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 appeal for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire.
Israel has so far refused all calls for a ceasefire.