US officials return to Middle East to push for ceasefire

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William J. Burns, director of the CIA, was due to arrive in Doha, Qatar, this week for talks on reaching a ceasefire in Gaza.Credit…Nathan Posner/Anadolu, via Getty Images

William J. Burns, director of the CIA, was due to arrive in Doha, Qatar, this week for talks with regional officials about reaching a ceasefire in Gaza, according to a U.S. official who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the matter . the spy chief’s journey.

The trip by Burns, America’s top negotiator, to the Gulf country comes amid a renewed effort to broker a deal to halt the fighting and release hostages in Gaza after months of failed attempts. White House Middle East coordinator Brett McGurk was also expected to return to the region this week for meetings in Cairo, a second U.S. official said.

A speech by President Biden last week in which he outlined the terms of what he called a new Israeli offer raised hopes among Israelis and Palestinians that a deal to pause the nearly eight-month war was finally imminent. But statements released in recent days by Israeli and Hamas officials suggest that a breakthrough is still elusive.

One of the biggest divides between Israel and Hamas concerns whether a ceasefire agreement could lead to a lasting truce. Biden said Israel’s proposal would ultimately lead to a “permanent cessation of hostilities,” comments that were welcomed by Hamas. But Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has refused to end the war without first destroying Hamas’s governance and military capabilities.

Qatar, the main mediator between the two sides, “is waiting for a clear Israeli position representing the entire government,” a spokesman for Qatar’s Foreign Ministry, Majed al-Ansari, said on Tuesday.

Burns’ meetings in Doha are not expected to yield much progress, said a person briefed on the negotiations, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive diplomacy. Yahya Sinwar, the Hamas leader in Gaza and the alleged mastermind of the October 7 terror attack in southern Israel, has yet to weigh in on the latest proposal, the person briefed on the negotiations said.

The first phase of Biden’s proposal called for both sides to observe a temporary six-week ceasefire while continuing to negotiate a permanent one.

At a news conference Tuesday, Osama Hamdan, a Hamas spokesman, said the most recent Israeli position communicated to the group did not include a permanent ceasefire or a full withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza, both terms Hamas has insisted on. . Israel, Hamdan said, was only interested in a temporary ceasefire to free the hostages, and then it would resume the war.

He said Hamas has informed mediators that the group cannot approve a deal that does not include a permanent ceasefire, a full withdrawal of Israeli troops and a “serious and real agreement” to exchange Palestinian prisoners for hostages.

“We ask the mediators to get a clear position from the Israeli occupation,” he said.

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