Middle East

Israel cancels Mossad chief’s Qatar trip to restart hostage talks

By Alex Marquardt, CNN

Tel Aviv, Israel CNN  — 

Israel has canceled a planned trip to Qatar by the head of its foreign intelligence service to restart talks on a possible second hostage release deal, a source familiar with the negotiations confirmed to CNN.

Mossad director David Barnea will not travel to the Qatari capital Doha, where previous talks on the release of hostages held by Hamas militants in Gaza have taken place, the source said.

Israel’s Channel 13 first reported Wednesday that the Israeli war cabinet, led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, had called off the trip and that senior Israeli officials would not go to Qatar to restart negotiations.

CNN has reached out to the Prime Minister’s Office about Barnea’s canceled trip. The Mossad answers directly to the Prime Minister.

Around 240 people, from infants to octogenarians, were taken hostage during Hamas’ attack on Israel on October 7. Dozens have been freed but many more remain missing, presumed to be held by the Palestinian militant organization and other groups in Gaza, following the breakdown of a temporary truce last month.

The Israeli prime minister’s office believes 135 hostages remain in Gaza, 116 of whom are alive.

Formal negotiations have not resumed since hostage talks that had been taking place in Doha broke down earlier this month.

But Israel, the United States and Qatar have continued to discuss ways to try to jump start the discussions, multiple sources said. “We never stopped,” one source familiar with the talks said.

Families of some of the Israeli hostages were outraged by the decision to cancel Barnea’s trip and demanded answers. “We are fed up with the indifference and deadlock,” they said in a statement.

“The families were shocked by the report on the rejection of the Director of Mossad’s request to formulate an agreement for the release of the hostages,” the statement added. “This announcement comes in addition to the ignoring of the parents’ request to meet with the Prime Minister and the Defense Minister, which have not yet been answered.”

Barnea has been leading the hostage negotiations for Israel while his American counterpart, CIA Director Bill Burns, has done the same for the US.

Eight American citizens are believed to be among the hostages and the US has played a mediating role alongside Qatar, which has led engagement with Hamas.

On Wednesday, the families of the American hostages met with President Joe Biden in Washington. They also went to the CIA to meet with Burns, according to a family member. A US official confirmed the CIA meeting.

On Wednesday, a source familiar with the negotiation efforts told CNN Hamas has been unresponsive to overtures made in recent days to try to restart the hostage talks.

Qatar has relayed to Hamas new ideas to try to get more hostages out of Gaza, including a potential deal that would include the release of not just the remaining women hostages, but men as well, according to one source familiar with the efforts and a senior US official.

“There’s not an active negotiation, but there’s a real exploration of ideas for how to get this going,” the senior US official said.

CNN’s Tamar Michaelis, Kaitlan Collins, and Katie Bo Lillis contributed reporting.

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