US Middle East envoy holds Gaza hostage release talks in Qatar, shows optimism

US Middle East3 envoy Brett McGurk was in Doha in recent days discussing a a new deal between Israel and Hamas to release hostages in exchange for a ceasefire in Gaza, the White House said Tuesday.

White House national security spokesperson John Kirby told reporters that McGurk was involved in “very serious and intensive discussions” with the Qataris about another hostage deal.

“I don’t want to say too much publicly here as we have these talks, but we’re hopeful that it can bear fruit, and bear fruit soon,” Kirby told a briefing.

US President Joe Biden’s main adviser on the Middle East, Brett McGurk, had been in Doha within the past week to discuss a possible deal on the hostages.

Hamas militants brough about 250 hostages back to Gaza during the October 7 attack on Israel, 132 of whom Israel says remain there, including a number of Americans.

Fighting has ravaged Gaza since the Hamas attacks which killed about 1,140 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on official Israeli figures.

At least 24,285 Palestinians, about 70 percent of them women, children and adolescents, have been killed in Gaza in Israeli bombardments and ground operations since October 7, according to the Hamas government.

Kirby meanwhile hailed an “important” announcement by Israel that it would wind down the intense phase of the war that has inflamed tensions across the Middle East.

The removal of a division of Israeli army troops from Gaza was a “positive step forward in terms of getting to lower intensity ops,” Kirby said.

Less intense Israeli operations would also allow the increased distribution of aid inside Gaza, he added.

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