Efforts to Secure Release of Hostages Held by Hamas in Gaza: Challenges and Progress

2023-10-25 09:42:00

Intense talks continue to free more hostages, but major obstacles remain

A group of people take part in the “Bring Them Home” solidarity rally in Trafalgar Square to call for the release of hostages held in Gaza by Hamas on October 22, 2023 in London, England. (Photo by Peter Nicholls/Getty Images)

Two sources familiar with the matter and a Western diplomat familiar with the deliberations tell CNN that talks are underway to try to secure the release of a large number of hostages held by Hamas in Gaza, but the talks are being complicated by several factors.

The United States, Israel, Qatar, Egypt and Hamas are participating in the ongoing deliberations. Four hostages have been released so far, two Americans and two Israelis. But a deal is now expected to be reached to release a larger group of hostages at once.

Israel is pressuring Hamas to present a comprehensive plan to release a larger group of hostages, according to another source, after only two groups of two hostages have been released so far. Israel has stated that there are believed to be more than 200 hostages held by Hamas in Gaza.

Israel has so far refrained from a ground incursion into Gaza, and the United States has pressured Israel to further delay its invasion of Gaza to allow the release of more hostages held by Hamas. Sources said the timing of the ground invasion was a moving target.

There is no concrete timetable for that delay, and sources said they do not believe the Israelis will delay it more than a few days. The calendar remains a moving target.

Determining how to release a larger round of hostages—if it were eventually agreed upon—has been an extraordinarily complex undertaking. Gaza has been under constant shelling by Israel since Hamas attacked the country on October 7, and moving a large group when attacks are ongoing would put them in danger.

As part of the negotiations, Hamas wants more fuel to be allowed into the coastal enclave in exchange for the release of more hostages, according to a person familiar with the group’s demands, but Israeli authorities have made it clear publicly that this is not possible. It is negotiable.

A senior adviser to the prime minister, Ambassador Mark Regev, told CNN on Monday night: “The government’s decision is that the fuel does not come in because it will be stolen by Hamas and used to fuel the rockets that are fired at Israel to kill our people.” Regev stated that Israel will not allow more fuel into Gaza even if Hamas releases all the hostages.

In a phone call Monday night, President Joe Biden and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu discussed the hostage situation as planning for a ground invasion progresses.

“The president welcomed the release of two more Gaza hostages earlier today, and reaffirmed his commitment to ongoing efforts to secure the release of all remaining hostages taken by Hamas — including Americans — and to provide a safe passage to American citizens and other civilians in Gaza,” the White House said after the call.

Nine of the ten unaccounted for Americans are US citizens and one is a permanent resident. U.S. officials are working to find “alternatives” to advance hostage negotiations, a U.S. official said. “We are actively working on it,” they said.

Another complicating factor is that the hostages are believed to be – as US officials have previously said – in different areas of Gaza.

On Monday, President Biden told reporters when asked if the United States would support a “hostages for a ceasefire” agreement: “we should have a ceasefire.” He quickly modified his response, saying: “Not a ceasefire, we should release those hostages and then we could talk.”

But Israeli officials have remained adamant that they will not accept a ceasefire.

“We are working through all channels to free all the hostages. Our objective remains the same and we will achieve it.” Dismantling Hamas is not an easy task and will take as long as it takes,” said an official in the Israeli prime minister’s office.

Jeremy Diamond, Matthew Chance and Jennifer Hansler contributed to this report.

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