President Biden spoke Tuesday with Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al-Thani about the release of hostages held by the Palestinian militant group Hamas and the need for greater humanitarian aid to war-torn Gaza, according to the White House.
Biden and Tamim discussed the “urgent effort to secure” the release of the remaining hostages — including American citizens — being held by Hamas in Gaza, along with efforts to “facilitate increased and sustained flows of life-saving access to humanitarian aid to Gaza,” a readout from the White House said Tuesday.
Qatar, along with Egypt, has served as a mediator amid Israel’s war with Hamas, which has controlled Gaza for 16 years. Both countries played a pivotal role in facilitating a weeklong cease-fire last month, during which fighting paused and Hamas released about 100 out of the 240 hostages kidnapped during the group’s Oct. 7 attack on Israel.
Hamas’s Oct. 7 surprise assault on Israel left about 1,200 people dead, sparking a massive campaign by Israel to destroy the militant group and its military capabilities in Gaza.
More than 20,900 Palestinians have died amid Israel’s bombardment of Gaza, according to the Gaza Health Ministry.
Negotiations between Israel and Hamas have largely focused on the release of the rest of the hostages, along with allowing more aid into Gaza, which is faced with dwindling humanitarian resources.
Egypt earlier his week proposed a new peace plan to end Israel’s war with Hamas, though it was met with mixed reactions from both sides.
The plan includes a phased hostage release under an initial cease-fire of up to two weeks and the creation of a Palestinian government of experts to temporarily lead the Gaza Strip and the Israeli-occupied West Bank, The Associated Press (AP) reported.
An Egyptian official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told the AP the plan would involve Egypt and Qatar working with all Palestinian factions, including Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, to reach an agreement on the proposed government of experts.
The details of the proposed deal were discussed with Qatar and presented to Israel, Hamas, the U.S. and European governments earlier this week, the official added.
Israel is facing increased global pressure to halt fighting in Gaza amid the climbing civilian death toll and depleting humanitarian system in the coastal enclave. The Israeli government has largely opposed calls for a cease-fire, arguing the country must eliminate the threat of Hamas and prevent the group from ever ruling Gaza again.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not directly comment on the proposal; he told members of his Likud party on Monday he was focused on continuing Israel’s offensive, the AP reported.
“We are expanding the fight in the coming days, and this will be a long battle, and it isn’t close to finished,” he said Monday, per the AP.
Hamas also didn’t officially respond to the proposal, though top Hamas official Izzat al-Rishq said in a statement that the group will not negotiate without a “complete end to the aggression,” the news wire reported. Rishq said Hamas would not agree to a “temporary or partial truce for a short period of time.”
While the Biden administration has yet to speak on the potential deal, a person familiar with the matter told the AP that U.S. officials are in close contact with Egypt and Qatar over the release of more hostages.
The U.S. is one of Israel’s closest allies and has remained steadfast in its support of the country’s efforts to defend itself against Hamas’s terrorist attacks. Faced with growing pressure from international leaders, Biden and other U.S. officials said they have advised Israel on taking precautions to minimize civilian deaths.
Earlier this month, the U.S., along with Israel, was among just 10 countries to vote against a United Nations nonbinding resolution calling for a cease-fire in Gaza.
The U.N. Security Council last week passed a resolution calling for increased humanitarian assistance to the Gaza Strip and for the release of the remaining hostages held by Hamas. The U.S. did not vote in favor of the resolution but also did not block it.
U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield last week said the body’s Security Council made clear that addressing the humanitarian crisis in Gaza “needs to remain at the forefront of our agenda.”