In the wake of the 7 October attack on Israel, a covert diplomatic mission unfolded to secure the release of around 240 hostages captured by Hamas.
The intricate negotiations involved four countries, coordination between intelligence agencies, and high-stakes presidential involvement.
According to a senior US administration official, the process unfolded over an “extremely excruciating five-week period.”
Qatar played a central role, proposing the establishment of a secret cell to work intensively on the hostage issue. Acting as the primary channel to Hamas, Qatar collaborated with Egypt in the complex negotiation process.
The breakthrough occurred on 23 October when Hamas released two American women as part of a “pilot” project that validated the negotiation concept. Following this success, efforts for a more significant release intensified.
Israel designated the head of Mossad, David Barnea, as its negotiator, regularly consulting with CIA chief Bill Burns. The negotiation process was prolonged and intricate, with messages passing through Doha or Cairo to Hamas in Gaza and back again.
The talks delved into technical details such as corridors, surveillance, timeframes, and the total number of hostages to be released.
President Joe Biden played a direct and personal role in the negotiations, engaging with the leaders of Israel and Qatar at critical junctures.
The US official highlighted that Biden viewed a hostage deal as the “only realistic path to secure a multi-day humanitarian pause in the fighting.”
This was crucial because Israel had made it clear that they would not halt their offensive for anything else.
The agreement, announced between Israel and Hamas, involves the release of 50 Israeli women and children over a four-day pause in the fighting in exchange for 150 Palestinian prisoners, also comprising women and children.
The suspension of hostilities could be extended if Hamas releases more hostages, offering a potential avenue for a longer-term ceasefire.
However, the negotiations faced challenges, including Hamas’s initial failure to clearly identify the individuals in the initial group of 50 hostages.
President Biden reportedly intervened, making it clear that this was a deal-breaker. Additionally, communication breakdowns occurred, causing a temporary stall, coinciding with Gaza running out of fuel.
When communications were restored, it took time to address gaps in the detailed agreement due to the high level of distrust between Israel, the US, and Hamas.
The official sidestepped questions about whether the hostage deal and negotiations offered a path toward ending the broader conflict but emphasized the determination to bring all hostages home.
As the initial phase unfolds, the official expressed confidence that additional women and children would be released during the pause period.
The article concludes by underscoring the ongoing commitment to the complex diplomatic efforts underway for the past five weeks, focusing on achieving the safe return of all hostages.
This article was created using automation technology and was thoroughly edited and fact-checked by one of our editorial staff members