Biden urges Egypt, Qatar to press Hamas to agree on hostage deal

Biden urges Egypt, Qatar to press Hamas to agree on hostage deal


President Joe Biden on Friday wrote to the leaders of Egypt and Qatar.

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WASHINGTON (Agencies) - President Joe Biden on Friday (Apr 5) wrote to the leaders of Egypt and Qatar, calling on them to press Hamas for a hostage deal with Israel, according to a senior administration official - a day after he'd called on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to redouble efforts to reach a cease-fire.

The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the private letters, said Biden's national security adviser will meet Monday with family members of some of the estimated 100 hostages who are believed to still be in Gaza.

The letters come as Biden has deployed CIA Director Bill Burns to Cairo for talks this weekend about the hostage crisis.

It's six months since Hamas invaded Israel killing at least 1200 people, and took around 250 hostages, about 130 of whom remain in Gaza. Israel responded with war in the pursuit of Hamas operatives, which has led to the death of 30-thousand people, mostly women and children.


Israel also came under mounting pressure Friday to step up aid to Gaza with its military admitting a series of "grave mistakes" when a drone killed seven aid workers in the embattled territory.

US-based charity World Central Kitchen, whose staff were killed in Monday night's drone strike, demanded that an independent commission investigate the killings.

Britain, which lost three nationals in the strike, called for a "wholly independent review".

Poland said it had demanded a "criminal inquiry" by Israel after what it called the "murder" of the aid workers, one of whom was Polish.

Israel said Friday it had been targeting a "Hamas gunman" in the strike, with the military admitting a series of "grave mistakes" and violations of its own rules of engagement.

Israel had announced earlier on Friday it would allow "temporary" aid deliveries into famine-threatened northern Gaza, hours after Washington warned of a sharp shift in its policy over Israel's war against Hamas.

Germany said Israel had "no more excuses" to delay the entry of aid, after nearly six months of war.

UN chief Antonio Guterres said "scattered measures" for Gaza aid were not enough. "We need a paradigm shift."

The toughened US position followed the killing of the World Central Kitchen workers -- an Australian, three Britons, a North American, a Palestinian and a Pole.

An internal Israeli military inquiry found that the drone team had made an "operational misjudgement of the situation" after spotting a suspected Hamas gunman shooting from the top of an aid truck.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said it was "very important that Israel is taking full responsibility for this incident".

The UN chief said he was "deeply troubled" by reports in Israeli magazine +972 that the military was using artificial intelligence to identify targets in Gaza.

"No part of life and death decisions which impact entire families should be delegated to the cold calculation of algorithms," he said.


In a tense, 30-minute phone call on Thursday, President Joe Biden told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that US policy on Israel was dependent on the protection of civilians and aid workers in Gaza, the first hint of possible conditions to Washington's military support.

Hours later Israel announced it would reopen another aid route into the Palestinian territory, which Israel placed under total siege after the war began.

"Israel will allow the temporary delivery of humanitarian aid" through the Israeli port of Ashdod and the Erez border crossing, as well as increased deliveries from Jordan at the Kerem Shalom crossing, Netanyahu's office said.

Biden said Israel was acting on the requests he had put to Netanyahu. "I asked them to do what they're doing," he said.

But European Council president Charles Michel said the measures announced by Israel were "not enough".

Efforts by Egyptian, Qatari and US mediators to broker a ceasefire and an exchange of hostages for prisoners have made no headway since a week-long truce in November.

CIA Director Bill Burns is to travel this weekend to Cairo where mediators will hold a new round of talks with Israel's spy chief David Barnea, the White House said.


Palestinians in northern Gaza have eaten an average of just 245 calories per day -- less than a can of beans -- since January, according to Oxfam.

UN agencies have accused Israel of blocking aid, but Israel has blamed shortages on aid groups' inability to distribute supplies once they get in.

Relief work has become almost impossible in Gaza, top global aid groups, including Oxfam and Save the Children, said after Israel killed the WCK staff.

A UN team finally reached Gaza's largest hospital Al-Shifa to assess the damage it sustained in a two-week Israeli military operation that destroyed many of its buildings and left scores dead.

"The loss to a health system already in tatters, amid skyrocketing health needs, is incalculable," said Ramesh Rajasingham of the UN humanitarian office (OCHA).