CIA chief eyes Middle East talks for Gaza hostage deal

January 26, 2024 by AAP
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US Central Intelligence Agency director William Burns plans to meet with Israeli, Egyptian and Qatari officials in coming days for talks on a potential Gaza hostage deal, a source familiar with the matter says.

The Washington Post, which first reported Burns’ trip, said Israel has proposed a two-month pause in fighting to allow for the phased release of the hostages still being held following Hamas’ October 7 attack on Israel, citing officials familiar with the matter.

Burns “has been … involved in helping us with the hostage deal that was in place and trying to help us pursue another one,” White House national security spokesman John Kirby told reporters travelling with US President Joe Biden aboard Air Force One, referring specific questions to the agency.

The CIA, which has a policy of not disclosing the director’s travel, declined to comment.

Burns’ dispatch by Biden to speak with officials including Qatari Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, comes as Israel’s retaliatory military campaign against Hamas continues into its fourth month.

Israeli tanks battered areas around two hospitals in Gaza’s main southern city Khan Younis on Thursday, forcing displaced people into a new desperate scramble for safety, residents said, in an escalating offensive Israel says is targeting Hamas militants.

In Gaza City in the north of the embattled enclave, 20 Palestinians were killed and 150 injured when they were hit by an Israeli strike while queuing to collect food aid, said Ashraf al-Qidra, spokesman for Gaza’s Hamas-run health ministry.

The Israeli military said it was looking into the report.

Gaza health officials said at least 50 Palestinians had been killed in the past 24 hours in Khan Younis, where Israel has shifted full-blown military operations after starting to pull forces out of northern areas it says it largely controls.

Most of the Gaza Strip’s 2.3 million population is squeezed into Khan Younis and towns just north and south of it, after being driven out of its northern half earlier in Israel’s military campaign.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus

Khan Younis is encircled by Israeli armoured forces and under almost non-stop aerial and ground fire, residents said, and a huge mushroom-like column of smoke billowed skyward from areas of Israeli military operations on Thursday.

Palestinian medics said Israeli tanks had cut off and were shelling targets around the city’s two main still-functioning hospitals, Nasser and al-Amal, trapping medical teams, patients and displaced people huddled inside or nearby.

Israel says Hamas militants use hospital premises as cover for bases, something the Islamist group and medical staff deny.

The Israeli army’s siege of Khan Younis’ main hospitals, in what it calls an escalating campaign to eliminate militants in Hamas’ main south Gaza bastion, has made it near impossible for rescue crews to reach the wounded or collect the dead.

World Health Organisation director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus called for a ceasefire and a “true solution” to the Israel-Palestinian conflict on Thursday in an emotional plea to the health body’s governing body where he described conditions in Gaza as “hellish”.

Ghebreyesus, who lived through war as a child and whose own children hid in a bunker during bombardments in Ethiopia’s 1998-2000 border war with Eritrea, became emotional describing conditions in the bombed-out Gaza enclave where more than 25,000 people have been killed.

“I’m a true believer because of my own experience that war doesn’t bring solution, except more war, more hatred, more agony, more destruction. So let’s choose peace and resolve this issue politically,” Tedros told the WHO Executive Board in Geneva.

“I think all of you have said the two-state solution and so on, and hope this war will end and move into a true solution,” he said, before breaking down, describing the current situation as “beyond words”.

Meirav Shahar, Israel’s ambassador Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Israel to the United Nations and International Organizations in Geneva, said Tedros’ comments represented a “complete leadership failure”.

In a statement sent to Reuters, she wrote: “The statement by the director-general was the embodiment of everything that is wrong with WHO since October 7th. No mention of the hostages, the rapes, the murder of Israelis, nor the militarisation of hospitals and Hamas’ despicable use of human shields.”


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