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CIA chief heads to Qatar, McGurk to Egypt as US presses for Gaza deal

Biden's top Middle East adviser and CIA Director Bill Burns are leading a last-ditch effort to pressure Hamas to take the first step toward ending the Gaza war.
White House Coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa Brett McGurk arrives at the US Capitol on April 18, 2024 in Washington, DC.

WASHINGTON – The White House's top Middle East adviser, Brett McGurk, is headed to Cairo to coordinate with Egyptian officials on a push for a cease-fire that could end the war in Gaza, a US official confirmed to Al-Monitor on Tuesday.

CIA Director Bill Burns is also expected in Qatar's capital on Tuesday to press for a deal, Axios first reported. An Egyptian security delegation is expected to reach Doha on Wednesday in coordination with the US delegation, Egyptian press reported. Axios previously reported that a Hamas delegation was set to arrive in Cairo on Tuesday to discuss the latest proposal for a deal. 

Separately, Egyptian sources told the Lebanese Al-Akhbar newspaper —close to Hezbollah— on Tuesday that an Israeli delegation was soon expected in Cairo. 

Why it matters: The Biden administration is pulling out all the stops with mediators in Egypt and Qatar to get Hamas and Israel to commit to a last-ditch cease-fire proposal.

President Joe Biden outlined the three-phase plan late last week in a speech from the White House. 

If accepted by both sides and fully executed, the multistage proposal would result in an Israeli military withdrawal from Gaza in exchange for the release of all hostages held by Hamas, followed by an end to hostilities, Biden said.

Yet Israel's prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has not publicly committed to the stipulations laid out by the White House. 

Netanyahu, whose right-wing governing partners have threatened to exit his fragile coalition government if the war is halted, has sought to distance himself from the White House's claim that the cease-fire would end the war.

Instead, Netanyahu's office has said a permanent cease-fire will not be possible until Hamas' governing and military capabilities are eliminated.

What's next: White House officials say the ball is in Hamas' court as Washington rallies international and regional pressure on the Palestinian Islamist group to accept the deal.

A senior administration official said last week the proposal is "nearly identical" to a previous proposal, the premise of which Hamas was willing to move forward with. Netanyahu's government opted to launch an incursion into Rafah after Hamas said it would accept the previous proposal, which Israeli officials said they had not signed off on.

Know more: Al-Monitor's Ben Caspit dissects Netanyahu's modus operandi for clinging to power even as his political rivals align with Washington and against him.