William Burns, the C.I.A. director, planned to meet Israeli, Egyptian and Qatari officials in Europe to try to secure a deal to release the Hamas hostages and a pause in the combat.
William J. Burns, the C.I.A. director, plans to travel to Europe to meet with senior Israeli, Egyptian and Qatari officials, in a sign the United States is pushing to secure a deal to release the hostages being held in the Gaza Strip and broker a prolonged cease-fire, according to U.S. officials.
U.S. officials said Israel’s apparent willingness to agree to a cessation of hostilities in return for the release of more hostages being held in Gaza has created a new opening for negotiations.
Any new deal would likely include phased releases of hostages, though the White House is hoping that a more ambitious one, possibly leading to the release of all of the remaining hostages, might be possible. The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive diplomacy.
Mr. Burns and David Barnea, the chief of Israel’s Mossad spy agency, helped broker a deal in November that led to a weeklong pause in the fighting and the release of more than 100 hostages in exchange for 240 Palestinian prisoners and detainees held by Israel. The talks were mediated by Qatar, which was negotiating with Hamas, as well as by Egypt.
Mr. Barnea and Mr. Burns are set to meet with Qatar’s prime minister, Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim al-Thani, and Abbas Kamel, the head of Egypt’s intelligence service, for the renewed talks. American officials would not reveal the precise location of the meeting for security purposes, and requested that the precise timing of Mr. Burns’s trip not be disclosed.
At least some of the officials last met in Warsaw in December, but those discussions stalled over Hamas’s insistence that the remaining hostages be released in exchange for a permanent cease-fire and larger prisoner releases. Israel rejected any permanent cease-fire and was pushing for a shorter pause in fighting.
American officials said Israel was now proposing a 60-day pause in the fighting in exchange for a phased release of hostages. That proposal, the American officials said, could provide a basis for renewed talks. News of Mr. Burns’s travel was earlier reported by The Washington Post.
The Biden administration is anxious to cut a deal that will halt the fighting for longer than the one-week pause that began in November and provide some breathing room to figure out what comes next.
The talks were set to begin amid tensions between Israel and Qatar, which this week accused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of hurting efforts to release the hostages after a leaked recording appeared to catch him criticizing the country.
In a recording that aired on Israeli television on Tuesday, a voice that appears to be Mr. Netanyahu’s calls Qatar’s role as a mediator “problematic” because of its relationship with Hamas and criticizes the United States for extending its military presence in Qatar.
“These remarks if validated, are irresponsible and destructive to the efforts to save innocent lives, but are not surprising,” a Qatari foreign ministry spokesman, Majed Al Ansari, said in a statement on social media on Wednesday.
He said that if the remarks were confirmed, Mr. Netanyahu would be “obstructing and undermining the mediation process, for reasons that appear to serve his political career instead of prioritizing saving innocent lives, including Israeli hostages.”
Mr. Netanyahu did not publicly respond to the Qatari comments.
The Israeli prime minister said on Sunday that he would not accept a deal for a permanent cease-fire that left Hamas in control of Gaza. He has been under pressure from the right wing of his government to take more aggressive military action in Gaza, even as a debate rises about the feasibility of both eradicating Hamas and negotiating the release of the hostages.
About 240 people were taken hostage during the Hamas-led Oct. 7 attack on southern Israel, which killed an estimated 1,200 people. Israel has responded with a furious onslaught in Gaza in a war that has killed more than 25,000 Palestinians, according to Gaza’s health ministry. More than 100 people are still being held captive in Gaza, according to the Israelis.
On Thursday, families of some of the hostages tried to block aid from entering Gaza at a border crossing, as Gazans waiting for aid in the enclave were killed in a strike, according to local health officials. Photos from the Kerem Shalom crossing between Israel and Gaza showed a small group of demonstrators holding signs with the faces of hostages.
It was not immediately clear how many, if any, aid trucks had been blocked or forced to reroute by the demonstration. But a day earlier, Israeli protesters at the Kerem Shalom crossing held up aid trucks for several hours, according to the United Nations. As a result, only nine trucks were able to enter there, and 114 were forced to reroute to Egypt and enter through another crossing, at Rafah, the U.N. said.
Relatives of the hostages have been taking more confrontational actions in recent weeks, storming into the Israeli Parliament, taking over highways and staging protests outside Mr. Netanyahu’s homes.
The Israelis protesting at the border believe that stopping aid from reaching Gaza will raise pressure on Hamas to release the hostages.
Danny Elgarat, whose brother, Itzik, 69, was kidnapped from his home in Kibbutz Nir Oz, said that Hamas militants were stealing the humanitarian supplies that enter Gaza and that civilians get only “the leftovers,” a common view in Israel. He said that he had protested aid shipments at the border on Wednesday.
“It’s just not acceptable that soldiers are putting themselves at risk fighting in Gaza, and the terrorists they’re fighting are getting fuel and food from us,” Mr. Elgarat said in an interview on Israeli television.
As the Israelis demonstrated at the border, a strike hit a crowd of Palestinians who were waiting for aid trucks at a traffic circle in Gaza City, the largest city in the north, killing multiple people and injuring scores of others, the local health authorities said.
Gaza’s health ministry blamed Israel for the strike. The Israeli military said that it was looking into it, but would not immediately comment further.
Yousef al-Riashi, who lives near the circle, said that he had seen many wounded people being taken from the area by ambulances, vans and donkey carts. He said that people had been going to the area regularly to try to get food from the few aid trucks that passed by.
With virtually no commercial goods available inside Gaza, its 2.2 million residents rely on aid to survive, according to the United Nations, which has warned that half of the population is at risk of starvation.
“Access to the north is very very limited and restricted,” said Juliette Touma, a spokeswoman for the U.N.’s Palestinian aid agency. “The clock is ticking against famine.”
The Israeli army, after appearing to establish control over northern Gaza in late December, withdrew thousands of troops from the region. As Israeli forces turned their focus to southern Gaza, Hamas militants and civilian officials have tried to reassert authority in the north, and some fighting has continued.
Israel opened the crossing at Kerem Shalom in December after pressure from the United States to speed up the flow of humanitarian aid into Gaza. At the time, Israel said it was committing to 200 trucks a day, but the rate of entry has fallen far short of that goal, averaging around 130.
Reporting was contributed by Michael Levenson, Ameera Harouda, Nameera Akhtar, Riley Mellen, Arijeta Lajka, Victoria Kim, Peter Baker and Yara Bayoumy.