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Qatar's emir speaks of hostage releases in Gaza diplomatic efforts

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Paris, France -

The emir of Qatar spoke Tuesday of “a race against time” to secure hostage releases as part of the diplomatic push for a cease-fire in the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza in which his country is playing a key role.

Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani was speaking on a state visit to France, at a dinner in his honor with his host, French President Emmanuel Macron. He noted that their two countries are working intensely on Gaza diplomacy but also spoke soberingly about the mounting human losses.

“The world sees a genocide of the Palestinian people. Hunger, forced displacement, savage bombardments are used as weapons. And the international community still hasn't managed to adopt a unified position to end the war in Gaza and provide the strict minimum of protection for children, women and civilians," the Qatari leader said, speaking through a translator.

"We are in a race against time to bring the hostages back to their families and at the same time we must work to put an end to the suffering of the Palestinian people.”

While the emir has made previous trips to France, the two-day state visit is his first since his accession to the throne in 2013.

His meetings with President Emmanuel Macron comes as negotiators from the United States, Egypt and Qatar have been working to broker a cease-fire deal in which the militant group Hamas would free some of the dozens of hostages it holds in exchange for Israel's release of Palestinian prisoners and a six-week halt in the fighting.

U.S. President Joe Biden said on Monday that Israel would be willing to pause its war on Hamas in Gaza during the upcoming Islamic holy month of Ramadan if a deal is reached to release some of the hostages held by the militants.

Israeli officials said Biden’s comments came as a surprise and were not made in coordination with the country's leadership. A Hamas official played down any sense of progress, saying the group wouldn’t soften its demands.

Negotiations were continuing Tuesday in Qatar.

Roughly 130 hostages remain in Gaza, but Israel says about a quarter of them are dead.

The start of Ramadan, which is expected to be around March 10, is seen as an unofficial deadline for a cease-fire. The month is a time of heightened religious observance and dawn-to-dusk fasting for hundreds of millions of Muslims around the world.

Macron said on X, formerly Twitter, that France and Qatar in a joint operation chartered humanitarian and medical aid on Tuesday for “the people of Gaza.” Macron said “75 tons of freight, 10 ambulances, food rations, 300 family tents” arrived in el-Arish airport in Egypt, near the Rafah crossing to Gaza.

France and Qatar also mediated a deal in January for the shipment of medicine for the dozens of hostages held by Hamas. Qatar authorities said last week that Hamas has started delivering the medication.

On Wednesday, the prime ministers of Qatar and France will chair an economic forum to boost investments in sectors such as artificial intelligence, health, green technologies, transport and tourism

Associated Press writer Barbara Surk in Nice, France contributed to this report.

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