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How Hamas Came to Release 2 U.S. Hostages Back to Israel

Hamas leaders said on Friday that they had decided to free the mother and daughter for “humanitarian reasons.” On Saturday, in an unmarked villa in Doha, Khalil al-Hayya, a member of the Hamas Politburo, shared more of the group’s thinking.

He argued that the members of the Qassam Brigades, Hamas’s armed wing, who carried out the Oct. 7 attack, had been instructed not to harm or capture civilians. But after the fighters broke through Israel’s metal barrier fence with Gaza, he said, members of other armed groups and other Gazans poured in behind them.

It was these people, Mr. al-Hayya insisted, who had slaughtered the Israeli civilians and kidnapped dozens of civilians and then dragged them back through the broken fence to Gaza.

“Our issue is with the soldiers, the military people,” he said.

Extensive footage of the attack, however, clearly disproves his assertions. Videos show Hamas gunmen shooting and killing unarmed civilians on streets, in neighborhoods and at an outdoor music festival. Documents found on dead Hamas assailants also included instructions to take civilian hostages, Israeli officials have said.

Mr. al-Hayya said that before Hamas releases any more hostages, Israel’s bombing of Gaza has to stop. He also said that other militant groups in Gaza were holding some of the hostages and that Hamas needs time “to look in the homes, with families, with the factions, and bring them together.”

Throughout this whole crisis, American officials have remained in close contact with the Qataris, who are in close contact with Hamas. White House officials called them. Mr. Blinken spent a few hours in Qatar on Oct. 13, during his seven-nation sweep through the Middle East, and there he spoke about the hostages with the emir, Sheikh Tamim ibn Hamad Al Thani, and the prime minister, Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al Thani.

The Qatari officials told Mr. Blinken about concrete steps the Americans could start taking to try to get hostages released, a U.S. official said. Before flying out to Bahrain, Mr. Blinken stood beside the prime minister and told reporters that the two countries were “working intensively together” on the hostages and that he was “grateful for the urgency that Qatar is bringing to this effort.”

One regional official with knowledge of the negotiations said that Hamas had agreed, in principle, to free all the civilian hostages if Israel ceased its attacks on Gaza. Mr. al-Hayya, in his interview, seconded that notion. Still, it is unclear when, or under exactly what circumstances, Hamas would agree to release them.

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