CIA Director William Burns to travel to Cairo for further hostage talks

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CIA Director William Burns is expected to travel to Cairo next Tuesday for further hostage talks after a new set of terms was delivered by Hamas days ago to the Qatari government, multiple sources familiar with the matter confirmed to CBS News. 

Qatari Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani will also attend.

While Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu publicly dismissed Hamas’ latest counterproposal as “delusional” in a fiery press conference on Wednesday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken later said the response included some nonstarters but also offered “space” for an eventual agreement.  

Burns, whom the Biden administration has tapped to lead U.S. efforts on hostage talks, met late last month in Paris with Sheikh Mohammed, as well as with Egyptian intelligence chief Abbas Kamel and David Barnea, the head of Israel’s Mossad, to hammer out a proposal involving the release of the roughly 130 hostages still held in Gaza in exchange for lengthier pauses in fighting. Officials from Israel’s internal security service, the Shin Bet, also attended that meeting.

It was not immediately clear whether all the same participants will reconvene in Cairo. The CIA declined to comment on Burns’ travel.

It will be the fifth round of talks for Burns, who also took part in negotiations with the Mossad chief and the Qatari prime minister in Poland in December, and twice traveled to Doha, Qatar, in November, when the first and only agreement was struck.

That agreement resulted in the release of more than 100 hostages, hundreds of Palestinian prisoners, and a seven-day pause in fighting.  

In its latest counter-offer, Hamas outlined a phased release of different categories of hostages in exchange for 45-day pauses in fighting and an eventual withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza. The group also demanded the release of Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails, as well as new influxes of aid and commitments to rebuild Gaza.

The text of the counterproposal was given to the Qatari government roughly an hour before Blinken met on Tuesday with Qatari Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, who relayed its contents to the American delegation. At a joint press conference Tuesday, Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Qatar Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani called the response “generally positive.”

Speaking in Washington, President Biden later called it “a little over the top,” without elaborating.