By Andrew Mills
DOHA (Reuters) – Qatar’s foreign ministry said on Sunday that without a “period of calm” in Gaza its mediators would not be able to secure the release of Israeli hostages held there.
“Any hostage release has to be linked to a period of calm that allows for the hostage release to work, which is something we have not seen for a while,” Majed Al Ansari, Qatar’s foreign ministry spokesperson told reporters.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday rejected U.S. calls for a temporary stop to Israel’s offensive against Hamas to facilitate work to free more than 240 hostages seized by the Palestinian Islamist group.
Israel would not pause its attacks unless the hostages held by the militants are freed first, Netanyahu said.
The Gulf state of Qatar has, in coordination with the U.S., led mediation talks with Hamas and Israeli officials over the release of hostages since the militant group led a rampage into Israel on Oct. 7, killing 1,400 people and bundling more than 240 others into Gaza.
Since then, Israel has steadily escalated its assault on Gaza and its 2.3 million residents and overnight on Saturday struck by air, sea, and ground.
Gaza health officials said on Sunday that more than 9,700 Palestinians, including 4,008 children have been killed in the war.
Qatar’s Prime Minister said on Sunday that the negotiations were at risk of failing because of Israel’s attacks and misinformation circulating about the talks.
“The process of this mediation is at risk in light of the spread of false reports and leaks about the negotiations, in addition to the complexity of the field situation due to the practices of the Israeli occupation army,” Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani, who also serves as foreign minister, said at a press conference with his French counterpart in Doha.
Qatar, which has faced criticism over its hosting of top Hamas officials and a political office, said the group’s presence in Doha serves as a “channel for peace”.
“It is a channel that is used for the mediation of the release of hostages, the exit of the foreign nationals and in various aspects of the mediation that is taking place. So I don’t foresee any reason to close that channel now,” Al Ansari said.
(This story has been officially corrected to fix the number of children killed in paragraph 7)
(Reporting by Andrew Mills, Clauda Tanios; Editing by Alexander Smith and Conor Humphries)