William J. Burns, the CIA director, arrived in Doha, Qatar, on Tuesday for a new round of negotiations aimed at freeing more hostages held in Gaza, according to U.S. officials.
Mr. Burns and David Barnea, the head of Mossad, Israel’s intelligence service, are due to meet Qatari officials. Qatar, which hosts the Hamas political leadership in Doha, has played the role of mediator in the talks between Israel and Hamas.
Qatar announced on Monday that Israel and Hamas had agreed to extend a break in fighting for two more days to exchange more hostages and prisoners and allow more aid to arrive in Gaza.
A U.S. official said Mr. Burns’ negotiations in Qatar would aim to build on that deal.
U.S. officials were deeply involved in pushing for a deal to release the hostages. taken during the attacks carried out by Hamas against Israel on October 7. Mr. Burns visited Doha on November 9 as he and Mr Barnea spoke with Qatari officials working on the issue.
Hamas and Israel finally reached an agreement on November 21, and trading began later in the week. During the first four days of the truce, 50 Israelis or dual nationals were released under the agreement, and 19 additional hostages – 17 Thais, one Filipino and one with dual Russian-Israeli nationality – were freed at the end. separate negotiations. In exchange for the release of Israelis and dual nationals, Israel suspended its military campaign in Gaza, allowed more aid to flow into the enclave and released some Palestinian prisoners.
Some U.S. officials have expressed hope that the temporary pause can be extended to some sort of more permanent ceasefirealthough Israeli officials have said their military campaign must continue.
A CIA spokeswoman said the agency does not comment on the director’s travels.
Israel is concerned that some Hamas hostage releases have separated children from their mothers or broken up siblings. Throughout negotiations this month, Israeli officials have pushed for Hamas to release entire families and, over the weekend, stressed to U.S. officials that they did not believe Hamas respected their commitments.
These concerns were sufficiently addressed on Monday for the pause to be extended and the parties to agree to continue negotiations in Doha.
Mr. Burns was chosen to represent the United States in the hostage talks after Israel chose Mr. Barnea to work with the Qatari government to reach a deal. Neither Mr. Burns nor Mr. Barnea negotiated directly with Hamas officials, working instead through Qatari intermediaries.
President Biden has often used Mr. Burns as a secret negotiator, taking advantage of his long diplomatic experience and the CIA’s policy of trying to keep the director’s trip secret.
But Mr. Burns is uniquely positioned for the ongoing negotiations. A former ambassador to Jordan, he enjoys deep trust among Middle East leaders, according to U.S., Israeli and Arab officials. During his visit to Israel, Jordan, Egypt and Qatar earlier this month, he focused largely on building support for a deal to release the hostages.