Secret talks that led to the Gaza hostages agreement

Secret talks that led to the Gaza hostages agreement

Secret talks that led to the Gaza hostages agreement

Secret talks that led to the Gaza hostages agreement

  • Secret talks that led to the Gaza hostages agreement.
  • The announcement of a prisoner swap agreement negotiated by Qatar and Egypt.
  • McGurk and Josh Geltzer were given instructions by Sullivan to form the team.

The Qatari government requested the formation of a small team of experts to assist in the efforts to rescue the hostages, shortly after Hamas took hostages during their attack on southern Israel on October 7.

The announcement of a prisoner swap agreement negotiated by Qatar and Egypt and approved by Israel, Hamas, and the United States marked the culmination of that work, which had started in the days following the hostages’ capture.

US President Joe Biden engaged in difficult personal diplomacy as part of the covert operation. In the weeks preceding the agreement, Biden had several urgent meetings with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the emir of Qatar.

Director of the Central Intelligence Agency Bill Burns, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and his deputy, Jon Finer, and US Middle East envoy Brett McGurk, among others, it involved hours of laborious talks along with Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

Two of the effort’s officials gave detailed accounts of the efforts that resulted in an arrangement wherein 150 Palestinian inmates would be exchanged for the release of 50 hostages during a four-day cease-fire.

According to the officials, Qatar, a reputable middleman in a difficult region, approached the White House shortly after October 7 with critical information about the hostages and the possibility of their release. The Qataris requested the formation of a small group, dubbed a “cell,” to discuss the matter in private with the Israelis.


McGurk and Josh Geltzer, another staffer from the National Security Council, were given instructions by Sullivan to form the team. According to the authorities, Qatar and Israel insisted on maximum secrecy, with only a select few being aware of this, therefore this was done without informing other pertinent US agencies.

As an experienced diplomat with extensive knowledge of the Middle East, McGurk spoke with Qatar’s prime minister, Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al Thani, every morning. He gave Sullivan a report, and every day Biden received an update on the situation.

He received a firsthand glimpse at what the victims of the Hamas attack went through when Biden met for an emotional, long time on October 13 with the relatives of Americans who were either missing or being held captive.

A few days later, on October 18, Biden traveled to Tel Aviv for negotiations with Netanyahu. The individual stated that obtaining humanitarian aid and ensuring the release of captives were at the forefront of his conversations with Netanyahu and his war cabinet.

Five days later, on October 23, two American hostages, Natalie and Judith Raanan, were freed thanks in part to the efforts of the White House team.

The challenging, multi-hour escape of the hostages from Gaza was tracked in real time by McGurk, Sullivan, and Finer from outside Sullivan’s West Wing office.


According to the authorities, Biden gained confidence that Qatar could fulfill its commitments with the tiny team it had together after the two Americans’ return, demonstrating that it was possible to secure the release of captives.

At this point, efforts to free more captives accelerated. Following this, Burns started having regular conversations with David Barnea, the director of Mossad.

According to the authorities, Biden saw a chance to secure the release of numerous hostages and believed that a prisoner bargain was the only practical way to secure a break in hostilities.

As Israel prepared to begin a ground invasion of Gaza on October 24, the US learned that Hamas had accepted the terms of a deal to free women and children, resulting in a halt and postponement of the ground invasion.

US and Israeli officials discussed whether to postpone the ground offensive.

Since there was no evidence of captive survival, the Israelis contended that the restrictions were not strict enough to warrant a wait. It was only when the fighting stopped that Hamas said they could identify who was being detained.


Israelis and Americans considered Hamas’s stance to be deceptive. According to the person, if a compromise materialized, Israel’s invasion strategy was modified to accommodate a delay.

Biden participated in in-depth discussions during which ideas regarding the possible release of hostages were discussed and debated over the next three weeks.

It was demanded that Hamas provide lists of the captives it was holding, along with identification details and release promises.

According to the officials, the procedure was drawn out and laborious, requiring difficult contact and the passage of messages from Doha or Cairo into Gaza and back.

When the phasing of releases started to take shape, Biden had a previously unknown phone conversation with the prime minister of Qatar, the official said.

The agreement that was taking shape called for the release of women and children who were being held as hostages in the first phase, along with the equivalent release of Palestinian detainees held by the Israelis.


The Israelis demanded that Hamas guarantee that every woman and child emerge during this stage. In agreement, the US side asked Qatar to provide identification documents or evidence of life for women and children detained by Hamas.

Hamas refused to provide a list of identifying criteria, despite stating that it could promise 50 in the first round. Burns met with the Premier of Qatar and Mossad’s Barnea on November 9 in Doha to talk over the draft agreement’s language.

The main challenge was that Hamas had not made it apparent who it was detaining at that moment.

Biden called Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, the emir of Qatar, and requested to know the names of fifty captives as well as their ages, genders, and countries three days later.

According to the official, there was no foundation for action without knowledge.

Hamas released information about 50 hostages that it claimed would be freed in the first step of any agreement not long after Biden’s call.


Biden pushed Netanyahu to accept the plan, and Netanyahu complied in a call on November 14.

That same day, McGurk saw Netanyahu in Israel. As they left the meeting, Netanyahu took McGurk by the arm, telling him, “We need this deal,” and he pressed Biden to speak with the emir of Qatar to finalize the parameters.

Discussions broke off as all communications in Gaza stopped.

Biden was in San Francisco for an Asia-Pacific summit when they reconvened. He warned the Qatari emir over the phone that this was his final chance, and the emir promised to put pressure on him to seal the deal, according to the officials.

“The president urged that the agreement close immediately. “Time was up,” a representative stated.

The premier of Qatar met with McGurk in Doha on November 18. After speaking with Mossad, Burns was brought in. The final gaps toward a deal were determined at the meeting.


The new deal called for the initial wave of hostage releases to be limited to women and children, with the expectation of further releases with the ultimate goal of returning all captives to their families.

The following morning, McGurk met with Egypt’s leading intelligence officer, Abbas Kamil, in Cairo. Leaders of Hamas in Gaza said that almost all of the agreements reached the previous day in Doha had been approved.

According to the officials, there was only one more problem, which had to do with how many hostages would be freed in the first round and how the agreement would ultimately be structured to encourage releases of captives beyond the 50 known women and children.

The sale was ultimately finalized after a flurry of further contacts.

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