Qatar working to 'bridge the gap' between Israel and Hamas

Agence France-Presse
Qatar working to 'bridge the gap' between Israel and Hamas
People sit in the back of a truck moving along a road in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip on June 18, 2024 amid the ongoing conflict in the Palestinian territory between Israel and Hamas.
AFP / Bashar Taleb

MADRID, Spain — Qatar said Friday it was pursuing efforts to "bridge the gap" between Israel and Palestinian militant group Hamas to reach a ceasefire in Gaza and  release Israeli hostages held there.

The Gulf emirate, the United States and Egypt, have been engaged in months of negotiations for a ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas war that erupted on October 7.

There has been one seven-day pause in November which led to the release of more than 100 hostages. Efforts since have been deadlocked.

"We have continued our efforts without interruption over the last few days," Qatar's Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani told a news conference in Madrid with Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Albares.

"There have been several meetings with the Hamas leadership to try to bridge the gap between the two parties and reach an agreement that will lead to a ceasefire and the release of the Israeli hostages," he added.

The talks are based on a plan US President Joe Biden laid out on May 31 calling for an Israeli withdrawal from "major population centres" in Gaza and a six week ceasefire, which could be extended if negotiators need more time to seek a permanent deal.

"Efforts are continuing, but so far we have not reached a formula that we feel is the most appropriate and closest to what has been presented," the Qatari prime minister said.

"As soon as this is done, we will communicate with the Israeli side to try to bridge the gap and reach an agreement as quickly as possible," he added.

Qatar-based Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said in a statement that the Palestinian Islamist movement was open to "any document or initiative that ensures the foundations of the resistance's position in ceasefire negotiations".

Hamas has insisted on the complete withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza and a permanent ceasefire before the release of all hostages sought by Israel. The Israeli goverment has rejected the demands.

Haniyeh said "the priority is to stop the criminal war on our people".

The Gaza war was sparked by Hamas's October 7 attack on southern Israel, which resulted in the deaths of 1,194 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.

Militants also took 251 hostages, 116 of whom remain in Gaza, including 41 the army says are dead.

Israel's retaliatory offensive has killed at least 37,431 people in Gaza, also mostly civilians, according to the Hamas-run territory's health ministry.

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