The Biden administration has pressed Israel to delay its imminent invasion of Gaza to allow for the release of more hostages held by Hamas and for aid to reach Gaza, according to two sources briefed on the discussions.
The release of two Americans held by Hamas Friday signaled that more of roughly 200 people believed to be kidnapped by the militant group may be freed after they were taken during the group’s deadly attacks launched against Israel two week ago.
“The [administration] pressed Israeli leadership to delay because of progress on the hostage front,” and the need to get trucks of aid into Gaza, one person familiar with the discussions said.
The NSC did not immediately respond for comment.
A senior Israeli official denied the US is seeking a delay of its ground incursion into Gaza. “We deny this report. We have a close dialogue and consultations with the US administration. The US is not pressing Israel in regards to the ground operation,” the official said.
When 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 the militant group. 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 Americans Judith Tai Raanan and her 17-year-old daughter, Natalie Raanan.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken, on NBC’s “Meet the Press” Sunday, said he was “hopeful” that more hostages would be released, “but the bottom line is this—they need to be released. Each and every one of them, now, unconditionally.”
“We don’t know why Hamas chose to release Natalie and Judith first. I use the word first advisedly because again we’re hopeful that more follow,” he said.
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.”