US talking to Qatar about release of Hamas hostages – FT
Officials from the United States and Qatar have engaged in dialogue aimed at securing the release of civilian hostages held by the Palestinian militant group Hamas in Gaza, according to a report by the Financial Times.
“There were positive meetings yesterday and Hamas seems willing to release the civilian hostages,” the newspaper wrote late on Saturday, citing comments from an anonymous source with knowledge of the discussions. “But Hamas say they can’t do so while the bombing continues.”
The report adds that the FT’s source said that Hamas “needs the Israelis to stop bombing Gaza for a short amount of time in order to safely release the captives.”
The precise number of hostages being held by Hamas following last Saturday’s attack in Israel remains unclear, but reports have indicated that it may be as many as 150. The White House said in recent days that a “very small” number of hostages are United States citizens. The Biden administration has also indicated that 22 Americans have died in the conflict.
Reports of a potential hostage release scenario come amid a seven-country tour of the Middle East by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, in which he has been warning regional leaders that there can be “no more business as usual” regarding relations with Hamas following last Saturday’s attacks in the south of Israel.
Blinken’s tour comes as part of Washington’s efforts to prevent the war between Israel and Palestinian militants from worsening into a wider conflict and to seek the release of Israeli and US hostages in Gaza, Reuters said.
Iran’s envoy to the United Nations warned late on Saturday that “the situation could spiral out of control” unless Israel’s “war crimes and genocide” were immediately stopped. Tehran backs Hamas and the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah.
As part of Blinken’s visit to the Middle East, the top US diplomat held talks with Qatar’s Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani on Friday. Qatar is a regional ally of the United States, and also hosts a Hamas political office.
In a statement to reporters, Blinken said that every country “needs to condemn” Hamas following its attack on Israel earlier this month that killed about 1,300 people. However, he did not directly address a question from reporters about whether Washington would compel Qatar to close the Hamas office in its capital, Doha.
Since last Saturday’s attack within its borders, Israel has responded with an unprecedented bombardment of Gaza, placing the enclave - which is home to about 2.3 million Palestinians - under siege and destroying much of its infrastructure.