Drone attack on US troops will not affect Gaza hostage negotiations, White House says

Discussions aimed at humanitarian pause in fighting that will allow 'large number of hostages' to be released

Families of hostages held in Gaza by Hamas have been protesting almost daily in Israel demanding an immediate deal. AFP
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The White House on Monday said that negotiations aimed at securing a pause in the fighting and the release of hostages held by Hamas in Gaza have been constructive, and the deadly attack on US troops in Jordan should have no impact on that effort.

National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said that ongoing discussions are aimed at bringing about a humanitarian pause in Gaza that will allow a “large number of hostages” to be released.

But Mr Kirby added that there was still much to be done.

“We don't want to sound sanguine here, there's a lot of work left to be done,” he told reporters. “We don't have an imminent deal.”

US, Egypt, Qatari and Israeli officials held talks in France on Sunday about a possible framework for a new hostage deal.

That same day, an Iran-backed group carried out a drone attack on a military base in Jordan that killed three US troops, in a significant escalation in relations with Tehran.

President Joe Biden's administration has said it will respond to the attack, but has no desire to engage in direct conflict with Iran.

Still, the latest escalation could complicate efforts to negotiate a deal that would lead to the release of more than 100 hostages from Gaza, and with it a ceasefire that would allow the entry of much-needed humanitarian aid to the besieged enclave.

“There's no reason that – whatever our response is – for that to have an impact on our ability to try to get these hostages released,” Mr Kirby said.

“We understand there's a lot of hard work ahead and that work ahead of us diplomatically certainly, might be affected by events elsewhere – not just what happened in Jordan and what might come as a result of that – but there's no reason why it should.”

In November, mediators from the US, Qatar and Egypt were able to help negotiate a week-long pause in fighting in Gaza, during which more than 100 hostages were released in exchange for Palestinian detainees held in Israeli prisons.

But efforts to negotiate another deal have stalled following the rejection of a recent deal proposal by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Meanwhile, the majority of Gaza's 2.3 million residents have been displaced to the southern city of Khan Younis, with limited access to food, water and medical care.

On Monday, after Israeli officials met Qatari and Egyptian mediators in Paris, Hamas said that releasing hostages would require a guaranteed end to the offensive in Gaza and the withdrawal of all Israeli troops from the coastal enclave.

Hamas has also said that freeing all hostages, including Israeli soldiers, would require the release of all Palestinian political prisoners held in Israeli jails.

Pressure is mounting on Mr Biden, who is running for re-election, and on other world leaders to reach a ceasefire deal in Gaza, four months into a war that has so far killed more than 26,000 Palestinians, most of them civilians.

The Biden administration has expressed its support for Israel's stated goal of eradicating Hamas, whose attack on Israel on October 7 killed 1,200 people and triggered the war.

Updated: January 30, 2024, 5:43 AM