Qatar’s mediation for hostage release deemed “crucial”

Israeli National Security

On Wednesday, praise for Qatar’s diplomatic efforts that resulted in the release of four hostages taken from Israel and humanitarian aid being allowed into the Gaza strip came from an unlikely source. A senior Israeli government official took to X, formerly known as Twitter, to express how “crucial” Qatar has proven in this endeavour.

Tzachi Hanegb, Israel’s National Security adviser released a statement on the X platform that read, “I’m pleased to say that Qatar is becoming an essential party and stakeholder in the facilitation of humanitarian solutions. Qatar’s diplomatic efforts are crucial at this time.”

The two most recent hostages released were elderly women identified as Yocheved Lifshitz, 85, and Nurit Cooper, 79, who were said to be released on humanitarian grounds. Both of them had been kidnapped during the attack on the kibbutz of Nir Oz of October 7. However, their husbands are still held in Gaza.

It’s the second hostage release since militants attacked southern Israel and abducted over 200 people. The first hostages to be released were Judith Raanan, 59, and Natalie Raanan, 17, a mother and daughter from Illinois. The pair were freed on Friday, the result of negotiations between Qatar, Israel, Hamas and the U.S.

Negotiations involving Hamas, Qatar, Egypt, and Israel have been ongoing and revolve around a proposal to release a larger group of hostages in exchange for a continuous supply of humanitarian aid, even though Israeli officials have expressed the condition that all hostages must be released before permitting fuel deliveries, citing concern that Hamas and other militant groups might divert the fuel for military purposes.

People familiar with the negotiations declared that the discussions regarding the potential release of a group of another 50 captives encountered difficulties due to the militant group’s insistence that Israel allow fuel deliveries into Gaza prior to release. Fuel has become a major point of contention and a sticking point in negotiations.

Qatar has been working to broker a deal to release the civilian hostages from Gaza in exchange for humanitarian aid or a ceasefire. Humanitarian aid has started to flow into Gaza after Israel’s total siege on the territory, but its delivery has become intertwined with discussions on releasing additional hostages.

As an estimated 222 people abducted on October 7 by Hamas militants, most of which remain in captivity in Gaza, Israel is under increasing pressure to secure the hostages’ release, with numerous governments having urged Israel to delay their ground invasion of Gaza to allow for more negotiation time.

Hosting and negotiating with Hamas leaders has brought scrutiny to Qatar in the past and the present, yet the gas-rich Gulf country has proven crucial for negotiating with such militant groups on behalf of Western allies.

In October 2023, US President Joe Biden thanked Qatar’s Emir for a rare Iran-US prisoner swap deal. The Doha-mediated deal saw Iran free five Americans in exchange for five Iranians held in the US and a transfer of $6bn in Iranian funds.

In November 2019, US President Donald Trump thanked Qatar’s Emir for the Gulf country’s efforts in facilitating the release of two Western hostages held by the Taliban in Afghanistan. In October 2013, Qatar helped win the release of 11 Lebanese Shi’ites after 17 months in captivity in Syria, and the list goes on highlighting Qatar’s role as an experienced and important ally in hostage negotiations.

Qatar’s foreign minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, who also serves as prime minister, said Wednesday that hostage negotiations with Hamas were continuing.

 

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