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Biden urges Egypt, Qatar to press Hamas on hostage deal ahead of weekend talks

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U.S. President Joe Biden on Friday urged the leaders of Egypt and Qatar to pressure Hamas militants to agree to a Gaza ceasefire and hostage deal ahead of a fresh round of talks this weekend in Cairo.

U.S. President Joe Biden © Mena Today 

U.S. President Joe Biden on Friday urged the leaders of Egypt and Qatar to pressure Hamas militants to agree to a Gaza ceasefire and hostage deal ahead of a fresh round of talks this weekend in Cairo.

CIA Director Bill Burns will lead the U.S. delegation to the Cairo talks, a U.S. official said.

A senior Biden administration official said Biden wrote letters to Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi and the emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, on the state of the hostage talks and "he urged them to secure commitments from Hamas to agree and abide by a deal."

Biden spoke with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday during which they discussed ongoing hostage negotiations and the round of talks in Cairo.

White House national security spokesperson John Kirby said Biden told Netanyahu to empower his negotiators in Cairo so that a deal can be reached as soon as possible.

The United States and its allies view a ceasefire as essential to allowing more humanitarian aid to get into Gaza amid fears of famine among the Palestinians there.

Under the most recent proposal, Israel and Hamas would agree to a six-week ceasefire in exchange for the release of sick, elderly and wounded hostages held by Hamas. Progress on a deal has been stalled for weeks.

"This basic fact remains true: There would be a ceasefire in Gaza today had Hamas simply agreed to release this vulnerable category of hostages – the sick, wounded, elderly, and young women," the senior Biden official said.

"The onus is on Hamas to release the hostages and bring relief to the people of Gaza through a prolonged ceasefire," the official said.

White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan will meet the families of the hostages at the White House on Monday, the official said.

Kirby said there were no plans by the United States to conduct an independent investigation into the killings of seven World Central Kitchen aid workers in Gaza.

The Israeli military dismissed two officers and formally reprimanded senior commanders after an inquiry into the killing of the aid workers in a Gaza airstrike this week found serious errors and breaches of procedure.

Netanyahu had briefed Biden in their phone call on Thursday on the general findings of Israel's inquiry into the incident. Biden warned Netanyahu that Israel must take steps to address civilian harm and humanitarian suffering or else Washington will take unspecified steps in response.

Israel also announced it was opening the Ashdod port and Erez crossing to increase the flow of aid into Gaza.

Asked if he had threatened to withhold military support for Israel, Biden told reporters on Friday: “I asked them to do what they’re doing."

Reporting By Steve Holland, Katharine Jackson and Jeff Mason

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