Qatar working to ‘bridge the gap’ between Israel and Hamas

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Qatar said Friday it was continuing mediation efforts to “bridge the gap” between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas to secure a ceasefire in Gaza and the release of Israeli hostages held there.

The emirate, with the United States and Egypt, has been engaged in months of negotiations over details for a ceasefire in Gaza.

But except for a seven-day pause beginning in November, which led to the release of more than 100 hostages, there has been no break in the fighting.

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“We have continued our efforts without interruption over the last few days,” Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani told a joint news conference in Madrid with Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Albares.

“There have been several meetings with the Hamas leadership to try to bridge the gap between the two parties and reach an agreement that will lead to a ceasefire and the release of the Israeli hostages” being held in Gaza, he added.

The talks are based on a plan US President Joe Biden laid out on May 31 calls for an Israeli withdrawal from “major population centers” in Gaza and a ceasefire for six weeks, which could then be extended if negotiators need more time to seek a permanent deal.

“Efforts are continuing, but so far we have not reached a formula that we feel is the most appropriate and closest to what has been presented,” the Qatari prime minister said.

“As soon as this is done, we will communicate with the Israeli side to try to bridge the gap and reach an agreement as quickly as possible,” he added.

The Gaza war was sparked by Hamas’s October 7 attack on southern Israel, which resulted in the deaths of 1,194 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.

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Militants also took 251 hostages, 116 of whom remain in Gaza, including 41 the army says are dead.

Israel’s retaliatory offensive has killed at least 37,431 people in Gaza, also mostly civilians, according to the territory’s health ministry.

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