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Biden urges Egypt, Qatar to push Hamas on hostage-release deal

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U.S. President Joe Biden wrote to the leaders of Egypt and Qatar on Friday to urge them to press Hamas to work out a deal with Israel for the release of hostages as part of a broader cease-fire agreement.

The request came ahead of this weekend’s expected talks in Cairo between negotiators from the U.S., Israel, Egypt and Qatar — in an effort to strike a new deal to stop the fighting nearly six months after the Oct. 7 attacks by Hamas sparked Israel’s retaliation.

Biden wrote letters to Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and the Qatar’s Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani urging them “to secure commitments from Hamas to agree and abide by a deal,” a senior U.S. administration official said, according to AP, AFP and Reuters.

The official also said Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, will meet Monday with some of the families of the estimated 100 hostages still believed to be held in Gaza out of the 253 people kidnapped by Hamas on Oct. 7.

Along with negotiators from the Egyptian and Qatari governments, the head of Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency, David Barnea, and U.S. CIA Director William Burns are expected to attend the weekend talks in Cairo, although the White House has not commented on reports that Burns is part of the U.S. delegation.

Since the conflict began, American, Egyptian and Qatari negotiators have managed to get Israel and Hamas to agree only to a one-week cease-fire in November.

Pressure is mounting from the White House to cease hostilities after Israel killed seven aid workers from the U.S.-based World Central Kitchen on Monday.

On Thursday, Biden spoke with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for the first time since the Israeli airstrike occurred, sparking outrage from Israel’s allies.

In the 30-minute conversation, Biden urged Netanyahu to expand humanitarian access in Gaza and to give his negotiators in Cairo a mandate to reach a deal that would allow for a  six-week cease-fire in exchange for the release of hostages.

Netanyahu admitted on Tuesday that an “unintentional” Israeli strike killed “innocent people” in Gaza, and the Israel Defense Forces fired two senior officers for their roles in the airstrikes.

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