Two U.S. officials tell Scripps News that the negotiations for the release of hostages may be a blueprint moving forward for future negotiations with Hamas.
Qatar has been an essential intermediary between the terrorist group, Israel and the U.S., despite criticism for harboring Hamas.
"I am now more confident that we are close enough to reach a deal," said Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani.
Hostage negotiations are often shrouded in mystery because of their high stakes. But the White House has said negotiations have been taking place hour by hour. A critical component has been establishing a safe zone devoid of fighting for the hostages to evacuate.
"It has been difficult to get any great detail on every single hostage — where they are, how they are," said National Security Council spokesman John Kirby.
Discussions have involved not just heads of state and diplomats but also U.S. and Israeli intelligence.
Earlier this month, CIA Director Bill Burns traveled to the region, a U.S. official told Scripps News, and he discussed the hostages with his Israeli counterpart, Mossad chief David Barnea.
But why would the CIA and the Mossad be involved in this negotiation?
Chris Costa, a former special assistant to the president for counterterrorism and hostages, says it's not unusual for senior intelligence officers to serve as a channel.
"The idea of ISR — intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance — flying over Gaza, there is some discussion that some of that intelligence collection will go away while there is an operational pause. So an intelligence officer is ideally suited to understand the dynamics, to understand the limits, and to go into a talk knowing what the impact of some of those negotiation points are. They have a complete picture," said Costa.
Hamas has claimed its fighters do not have access to all hostages because other groups, including the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, took their own captives.
"Maybe a hostage taker feels abandoned or trapped, and they have to make their own decisions. They may want to profit from this individually, for themselves, with their family, based on dynamics that may have changed for them personally. So it's important not to predetermine the facts," said former FBI hostage negotiator Phil Andrew.
A U.S. official tells Scripps News that the U.S. still sees Hamas as responsible for all the people who were taken. And the first release last month of a Chicago-area mother and daughter was a test case for what they hope will be many more releases to come.
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