Fate of American hostages up in the air with little prospect of stalled hostage talks resuming soon

Dec 4, 2023, 3:25 PM

Families and friends of hostages held in Gaza call for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to...

(CNN) — The negotiations over the release of additional hostages from Gaza that broke down early Friday appear highly unlikely to resume any time soon, multiple senior administration officials told CNN, leaving the fate of multiple Americans believed to have been taken captive by Hamas up in the air.

The White House has said there is one American woman and seven men unaccounted for following Hamas’ October 7 attack on Israel. So far, four Americans have been released since the start of the war. All are believed to be dual Israeli-American citizens.

The talks have stalled, and there does not appear to be any real prospects of those discussions starting back up any time soon, according to multiple senior administration officials.

The major reason for the impasse remained unchanged as of Monday, according to one senior administration official: Hamas is refusing to release a remaining group of young women hostages, and Israel will not accept the suggestion of moving on to discuss the next category of hostages: Men.

It also appears unlikely that the administration would be able to negotiate separately for the release of Americans citizens – similar to what the Thai and Russian governments did for hostages from those nations. There is no reason to think that Hamas would do the US any “special favor” in that manner, said a second senior administration official, who all but dismissed that possibility.

National security adviser Jake Sullivan said Monday the US is doing “everything in our power” to get hostages released from Hamas.

Despite the formal talks in Doha, Qatar, breaking down, Sullivan told CNN that there are still “intensive discussions” between the US, Israel, Qatar and Egypt about “how to best get traction on a strategy that will get all the hostages out – but of course, for the United States, the paramount priority is getting the American hostages out.”

On whether the White House is contemplating a potential separate deal aimed at securing the release of dual American citizens, Sullivan said, “We are talking to the president about all of his options in terms of securing the release of American hostages.” But he declined to comment further, citing “sensitive diplomatic discussions behind closed doors.”

Israel recalled its negotiators from Qatar – which was helping facilitate talks between Israel and Hamas – on Saturday, blaming Hamas for failing to “fulfill its part of the agreement, which included the return of all women and children held hostage.” In a statement after negotiations ended, Hamas held Israel and the United States responsible for ending the dialogue.

With fighting having resumed in the war, it remains unclear what – if anything – could bring back a cessation in hostilities and revive hostage talks.

The Israel Defense Forces said it carried out more than 400 strikes in the first 24 hours of renewed fighting Friday and, on Sunday, announced it was expanding ground operations to all of Gaza. More than 15,800 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli attacks in Gaza since October 7, according to the Hamas-controlled health ministry in the enclave.

As CNN has previously reported, Israeli and US officials believe that Hamas is refusing to release a number of women in the 20- to 30-year-old age range, many of them taken from the Nova music festival, claiming that those women are considered soldiers. That refusal, one official said, is “totally unacceptable” given that there have been “credible allegations of sexual violence linked to Hamas and the October 7 atrocities.”

State Department spokesman Matt Miller said Monday that one of the reasons Hamas does not want to release women being held hostage seems to be because “they don’t want those women to be able to talk about what happened to them during their time in custody.” However, he said he could not “speak with a definitive assessment” that this was a reason Hamas was not releasing some hostages.

Israeli police are documenting cases of rape perpetrated against women and girls by members of Hamas as the militant group attacked Israel on October 7, killing 1,200 Israelis taking more than 240 hostages.

“We’ve obviously seen the reports that Hamas has committed sexual violence, they’ve committed rape, we have no reason at all to doubt those reports,” Miller said, adding later, “certainly there is very little that I would put beyond Hamas when it comes to its treatment of civilians, in particular its treatment of women.”

As part of a deal that rose out of painstaking negotiations with the help of foreign mediation last month, Hamas released 105 hostages over the seven days of truce, primarily women and children. Israel in return released 240 Palestinians – or about three for every woman and child held in Gaza – also primarily women and children, many of whom were detained in Israel but never charged.

The Israel Defense Forces said Friday that there are 136 hostages still being held in Gaza, including 17 women and children. It is unclear how many of those are being held by Hamas as opposed to other militant groups that operate in the territory.

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Fate of American hostages up in the air with little prospect of stalled hostage talks resuming soon