US seeks delay of Israeli ground operation to allow more time for hostage talks
The US government has pressed Israel to delay its imminent ground operation Gaza to allow for the release of more Hamas hostages and aid into Gaza, according to two sources briefed on the discussions.
The Friday release of two Americans held by Hamas signaled the possibility of freeing more of the around 200 people believed to be kidnapped by the militant group after its deadly attacks two week ago.
The National Security Council did not immediately respond for comment.
When US President Joe Biden was asked Saturday if he was encouraging Israel to delay the invasion, he responded: “I’m talking to the Israelis.”
Qatar, acting as a middle man for the US and Israel, has been leading the discussions with Hamas about releasing the hostages since they were abducted by Hamas two weeks ago.
According to a diplomat briefed on the talks, the negotiations have included talks about getting much-needed aid into Gaza and the need for a temporary ceasefire to get the prisoners out. Israel has not indicated they are considering a ceasefire.
Hamas does not appear to have gotten anything concrete out of the Friday release of Judith Tai and Natalie Raanan.
Al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, said in a statement Saturday they were prepared to release two “detained individuals” whom they identified by name. “The same procedures” used to release the Raanans would be employed for the new proposed release, the statement said.
The office of Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded to the claim Saturday evening, saying it would not comment on “false Hamas propaganda,” adding Israel’s government would “continue to do everything necessary to bring all the captives and missing back home.”
An official in the Israeli prime minister’s office told CNN on Friday, after news of the Americans’ release, that it may have been an attempt by Hamas to lessen the Israeli military response.
“That (military) pressure isn’t going to go because they were released,” the official said. “It won’t change the mission, which is to dismantle Hamas.”