Israel and Hamas could restart ceasefire talks within a week, officials say

Diplomats aim to restart ceasefire negotiations between Israel and Hamas by next week, according to three officials briefed on the process, rekindling hopes of an end to the fighting in Gaza even as Israel presses ahead with its campaign. There.

According to officials, preliminary talks took place this weekend in Paris between David Barnea, director of Mossad, Israel's foreign intelligence agency; William J. Burns, the director of the CIA; and Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, a key mediator between Israel and Hamas. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.

For months, Qatar, the United States and Egypt have tried to persuade Israel and Hamas to agree to a truce and prisoner exchange that could help end the seven-month war.

But previous talks have repeatedly broken down due to the length and nature of the truce: Hamas wants a permanent ceasefire, allowing it to remain in charge of Gaza, while Israel wants to be able to continue fighting after a pause, so as to be able to wrest Hamas from power. The other big point of contention in the latest round centered on how to transition between different phases of a three-phase deal.

Previous flashpoints have included the extent to which Israeli troops should withdraw from Gaza during a possible truce and whether Israel will allow Gazans to move freely between northern and southern Gaza.

The sides also disagree on the number of hostages that should be released by Hamas, as well as the number of Palestinian prisoners that should be freed by Israel in exchange. In the latest round, negotiators talked about the possibility of Hamas releasing 33 hostages, mostly women, elderly people and anyone in need of urgent medical care. According to the latest Israeli assessment, more than 120 hostages remain in Gaza, and about a quarter of them are dead.

During the talks, Egyptian and Qatari officials dealt directly with Hamas envoys, who do not meet in person with their Israeli or American counterparts. Egypt took the lead in the latest round of negotiations, which took place in Cairo, also attended by Qatari officials.

Diplomats say the hostage negotiations must be completed in order to make progress on other related diplomatic initiatives. These efforts include a regional debate over who should govern post-war Gaza; talks about a normalization agreement between Israel and Saudi Arabia; and ceasefire negotiations between Israel and Hezbollah, the Lebanese militia fighting the Israeli army along the Israeli-Lebanese border.

Rawan Sheikh Ahmad contributed reporting from Haifa, Israel, and Julian E. Barnes contributed by Washington.

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