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“Rescue Mission or Reversal? Israel Cancels Mossad Chief’s Qatar Trip

In a surprising move, the Israeli government has cancelled a planned trip by its spy agency head to Qatar in order to begin negotiations over the release of two Israeli citizens being held hostage. The two Israeli nationals, Avera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed, have been held hostage in Gaza for nearly five years. It was believed that the diplomat and Mossad chief, Yossi Cohen, would travel to Qatar for conversations about possible negotiations with Hamas, the militant group responsible for their captivity. Instead, an Israeli government source stated that the planned trip had been cancelled in order to maintain “good order,” as the Qataris unexpectedly visited another Middle Eastern country seemingly more affected by the regional struggle. This decision was made despite the fact that both Mr. Mengistu and Mr. al-Sayed, both suffering from mental health issues, have remained in captivity since their capture in 2014 and 2015, respectively. Previous attempts have failed to establish any major breakthroughs in the negotiation process, with Israel and Hamas at loggerheads over a proposed prisoner-swap. In recent weeks, there have been intermittent reports of possible negotiations between Israel and Hamas, however the situation is currently as fragile as ever. Hamas has been reluctant to make any personnel changes in the leadership of the Gaza Strip, while Israel has so far not shown any indication of softening its stance. In the meantime, Israel has made clear that it will take any steps necessary to retrieve its citizens, even if it means imposing heavy economic and political pressure on Qatar or other countries in the region. This is a developing story and an urgent one, and the hope is that the current release attempts won’t be fruitless and that Mr. Mengistu and Mr. al-Sayed can soon be reunited with their families.