CIA Director Heads to Qatar for Hostage Negotiations

Welcome back to World Brief, where we’re looking at high-level hostage negotiations in Qatar, a diplomatic spat between Britain and Greece, and New Zealand’s tobacco U-turn.

Welcome back to World Brief, where we’re looking at high-level hostage negotiations in Qatar, a diplomatic spat between Britain and Greece, and New Zealand’s tobacco U-turn.

U.S. CIA Director William Burns touched down in Doha, Qatar, on Tuesday for high-level negotiations with the Qatari prime minister and Israel’s spy chief as part of a broader diplomatic effort to expand on the now six-day truce between Israel and Hamas.

In Doha, Burns is expected to call for men and military personnel to be included in hostage negotiations, which so far have focused on civilian women and children, as well as for a prolonged break in fighting and Hamas’s release of American hostages, according to the Washington Post. Tuesday’s talks come a day after Israel and Hamas agreed to extend their four-day hostage deal truce by two days, in return for the release of 20 hostages held by Hamas and 60 Palestinians imprisoned by Israel.

Burns’s meeting with Mossad Chief David Barnea and Qatari Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani marks the latest effort to secure a longer halt in fighting that could help pave the way for a future cease-fire, even as Israeli officials vow to resume military operations once the deal expires. Under the terms of the initial deal, Israel has agreed to one-day extensions in exchange for the release of 10 additional hostages held by Hamas—for a maximum of 10 days.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is also set to travel to Israel, the West Bank, and the United Arab Emirates in the coming days, U.S. officials announced on Monday. The upcoming trip will be his third visit to the region since Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack against Israel.

“Secretary Blinken will discuss Israel’s right to defend itself consistent with international humanitarian law, as well as continued efforts to secure the release of remaining hostages, protect civilian life during Israel’s operations in Gaza, and accelerate humanitarian assistance to civilians in Gaza,” a U.S. State Department spokesperson said. Blinken will also discuss “tangible steps to further the creation of a future Palestinian state, and the need to prevent the conflict from widening.”

Diplomatic spat. Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak are publicly feuding after Sunak’s last-minute cancellation of their planned talks on Tuesday. Sunak’s snub came just a day after the Greek leader appeared on the BBC to advocate that Britain return the Parthenon Sculptures to Greece, a sore point that has long created tension between the two countries. The ancient Greek works of art, also called the Elgin Marbles, were taken from Greece by a British aristocrat known as Lord Elgin in the 19th century and are currently in the possession of the British Museum.

“I express my annoyance that the British prime minister canceled our planned meeting just hours before it was due to take place,” Mitsotakis said, while a Greek government spokesperson called the cancellation “unprecedented” and “disrespectful.” Mitsotakis refused to meet with British Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden in place of Sunak.

New Zealand’s tobacco U-turn. New Zealand’s new center-right coalition government plans to reverse the country’s widely-heralded smoking ban and use the revenue from increased tobacco sales to help pay for its proposed tax cuts. The 2022 law, passed under former Prime Minister Jacinda Arden, would have prohibited the sale of tobacco products by 2027 to those born on or after Jan. 1, 2009, and progressively increased the country’s legal smoking age.

The move has drawn sharp criticism from health policy experts, who warn of damaging public health impacts and long-term healthcare costs. “This is major loss for public health, and a huge win for the tobacco industry—whose profits will be boosted at the expense of Kiwi lives,” Boyd Swinburn, co-chair of Health Coalition Aotearoa in New Zealand, said.

Floods ravage East Africa. Kenyan authorities are calling on civilians to evacuate from flood-prone areas amid a rising death toll across East Africa. In Kenya, weeks of torrential rains have killed at least 76 people and displaced as many as 40,000; authorities estimate that at least 216 people have died across Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia. The extreme precipitation has also led to “disease outbreaks, destruction of infrastructure and property, as well as prolonged power outages,” according to the Kenyan government.

Wildlife experts warn that the United States could soon face an invasion of “super pigs”: crossbreeds of wild Eurasian boars and domestic pigs whose explosive populations in Canada could push them into Minnesota, North Dakota, and Montana. With their rapid reproduction rates and sharp survival instincts, the pigs are known to damage crops and spread diseases. They are an “ecological train wreck,” Ryan Brook, a professor at the University of Saskatchewan, said.

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