The covert initiative involved intense personal diplomatic efforts by Joe Biden, who engaged in urgent discussions with the emir of Qatar and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Following the Hamas attack on southern Israel on October 7, the government of Qatar approached the White House, seeking assistance in freeing hostages taken by Hamas militants.

In response, a small team of advisers, referred to as a “cell,” was discreetly established by National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan. This team, led by U.S. Middle East envoy Brett McGurk, worked closely with Qatar and Israel to facilitate the release of hostages through a prisoner swap deal.

The process involved daily communication between McGurk and Qatar’s Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al Thani. President Biden, who had emotional meetings with the families of hostages, emphasized the importance of securing their release. After the successful release of two American hostages on October 23, the U.S. team intensified efforts to free more hostages.

Negotiations with Israel, discussions about a potential ground offensive in Gaza, and debates over delaying the offensive took place. The U.S. team worked on gaining the release of a significant number of hostages, leading to an agreement where 50 hostages would be freed in exchange for 150 Palestinian prisoners during a four-day pause in fighting.

The negotiations involved demands for lists and identifying information of hostages held by Hamas. Biden’s engagement, including a call with Qatar’s emir on November 9, played a pivotal role. The deal faced obstacles, especially regarding the identification of hostages by Hamas. After Biden’s call to Qatar’s emir on November 14, Hamas provided details for the 50 hostages, and the deal was accepted by Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu.

The final steps involved meetings in Doha and Cairo, addressing the remaining gaps, and confirming Hamas’s acceptance of the agreements. The deal was structured for the phased release of women and children hostages, with expectations for future releases. The agreement aimed to bring all hostages home to their families, marking the resolution of a complex and sensitive diplomatic effort.

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