How the US and Qatar brokered hostage deal between Hamas and Israel

Top Qatari leaders and US President Joe Biden were intensely involved in the mediation efforts with Hamas.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

The U.S. and Qatar were instrumental in delivering the just-signed deal for the release of some 50 female and child hostages Hamas kidnapped during its October 7 invasion of Israel, the Times of Israel reported Wednesday.

A senior Biden administration official told journalists Tuesday night that Doha had reached out to offer its services as mediator soon after the terrorists massacred 1,200 people, the vast majority of them civilians, and dragged 245, including the elderly and infants, into the Gaza Strip.

Qatari officials suggested setting up a secret negotiating “cell” that would consist of some of the most senior members of the American and Qatari governments.

No less a personage than Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed Bin Abdulrahman al-Thani led the way for Qatar.

On the U.S. side, CIA head William Burns, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, and White House Mideast czar Brett McGurk, all played important roles, with the official saying that President Joe Biden himself stepped in at crucial moments.

The Israelis were represented by Mossad chief David Barnea, assisted by Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer and National Security Council chairman Tzachi Hanegbi, both the latter considered especially close to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Egyptian intelligence head Abbas Kamel “filled in the gaps,” when necessary, the official noted.

The sudden release on October 20 of American kidnappees Judith Raanan and her teenaged daughter Natalie was a “pilot process,” the official revealed, to see if the Qataris could get the goods, as it were.

The success “gave us some confidence that Qatar really could deliver through the cell we had established,” the official said.

The pair were tracked during their liberation, all the way to the Gazan border, showing that Israel could keep an eye on the procedure and know if any double-cross took place.

Hamas, which at this point wanted Israel to stop its plans for a ground incursion in the Strip, then released two days later a pair of elderly Israeli women, Nurit Cooper and Yocheved Lifschitz, and said more could be freed if Israeli troops didn’t enter the enclave.

Israel refused, the official said, on the grounds that the terror organization had yet to provide proof of life for almost all the hostages, and just wanted to buy time. Biden talked every day to Netanyahu during these mini-releases.

While he had been pressing for days for Israel to institute days-long “humanitarian pauses” to allow aid in to the Gazans, he understood at this point that the entire war cabinet was in agreement that no such pauses would be allowed without Israel getting back at least some of the hostages.

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On October 25, talks began for the first time between the U.S. and Qatar about a gradual release of hostages in exchange for Palestinian terrorists imprisoned in Israel, said the official, with Biden entering the picture to give the idea a serious push forward with al-Thani.

The IDF then invaded Gaza on October 27, with government officials stating that the way to achieve the war aim of getting the abductees back was by physically threatening Hamas’ existence by military means.

Qatar publicly decried the invasion, and for two weeks almost nothing progressed on the hostage front. Biden then had an “intense” phone call with Qatari leader Emir Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani, telling him that Hamas must supply identifying information of those it could free, as per the Israeli demand.

A week ago, Hamas finally gave over the data on 50 women and children last week, and Biden called Netanyahu, who gave cautious support to an exchange. Hamas suddenly backtracked after the IDF went into Shifa Hospital, under which is a major tunnel network and Hamas command center, with Israel again saying that the terrorists needed to feel physically threatened in order to free the hostages.

Finally, on Saturday, Hamas came back to the table and over the next two days, the Qataris, Americans and Egyptians fine-tuned the six-page agreement “so that nothing is left to chance,” the administration official said.

The Israeli government voted to accept the deal early Wednesday morning, with only the Otzma Yehudit party opposing it.

This is despite the administration official’s assertion that “The Israelis rightfully insisted that all women and children be released in this first phase, and we agreed.” Out of the 239 currently being held captive, there are some 40 children, and only 30 of them are being freed. In addition, only 20 women are coming out, including eight out of 13 mothers and the rest elderly.

In exchange for the release of the 50 hostages, Israel expected to free some 140-150 jailed minors and female terrorists, with more to be released if and when additional captives are returned.

Ten hostages are expected to be freed each day for three days starting Thursday, with 20 coming out on the last day.